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Tiger takes Torrey for 75th tour win

SAN DIEGO -- Admission was free on Monday for the completion of the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open at the Torrey Pines Golf Course.

So thousands of fans of all races, colors and socioeconomic groups lined the fairways of this public course along the Pacific Ocean to see one man -- Tiger Woods.

Tiger was the reason why many of them had developed an interest in golf. Now through brutal crosswinds, cold and a tediously slow pace of play, they had the good fortune of seeing their hero get his 75th PGA Tour title with an even-par 72 for a 14-under total and a 4-shot win.

It was Tiger's seventh victory in this event and eighth overall as a pro at Torrey Pines, including his win here at the 2008 U.S. Open.

Five years removed from his last win in this tournament as well as his last major championship, much has changed in Tiger's life, from a divorce to overcoming injuries to the hiring of a new swing coach and caddie. This week was the culmination of his efforts to bring all aspects of his game back together at a place that he dearly loves.

But as much as Tiger's fans were at Torrey Pines on Monday to celebrate his progress back from tough times, they were here to see the man who had captivated the sports world in 2000 and 2001 with feats unprecedented in the game's history.

There were many in the crowd who had been here the week in June 2008 when he won the U.S. Open over the course of 91 holes with stress fractures in his left leg.

Tiger is back. This is what they hope this win means.

But that's not the way Tiger sees it.

"I'm not going to compare it to those years, because each one's different," Tiger said. "I had a different swing then, just like I did back in '99, 2000, 2001. Those are all different swings. But the commonality is I won golf tournaments, and that's what I'm doing again."

The Tiger who won the 1997 Masters by 12 shots and the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by 15 is long gone, perhaps, but can he still win many tournaments and major championships?

The evidence points to yes.

For the last 36 holes, Tiger was paired with Billy Horschel and Casey Wittenberg, two young players who had the wind and the crowds and a slow group in front of them working against them on Monday.

Last June in the U.S. Open, the 28-year-old Wittenberg played in the final round with Woods. The Memphis native believes the 14-time major champion has made significant strides since Wittenberg beat Woods by 3 shots at the Olympic Club.

"Tiger has a lot more control over his golf game," said Wittenberg, who finished in a tie for 15th after a 74 on Monday. "At the Olympic Club, he couldn't hit a draw. Now he's driving the ball long and very well. If he keeps driving the golf ball well all year, he is going to be hard to beat."

Joe LaCava, Tiger's caddie since late 2011, believes his boss is better than he was at this point last year.

"Tiger is driving it better and making some putts," LaCava said after his fourth win with Woods. "The short game is sharper and his distance control is better."

On Monday, Erik Compton spoke for many after his 75 to finish in a tie for 15th.

"You see why a guy like Tiger, who has done this for so many years, why he's so good," Compton said. "We're all thrown into this environment, and we're kids compared to him."

Back when Tiger won the unofficial Chevron World Challenge in 2011, much ado was made about his long drought from the winner's circle. To dispel that notion he used the opening lines from LL Cool J's song "Mama Said Knock You Out."

Don't call it a comeback/I've been here for years.

On Monday, he reminded of us of those famous lines when he was asked what he would say to those who said he won't really come back until he won a major.

"I never left," he said.

Rory McIlroy, who wasn't in the field at Torrey Pines, is in Tiger's sights at No. 1 in the world. The Northern Irishman has taken some of the sheen off Tiger's aura, but that doesn't bother the former Stanford star who will next play in the WGC-Accenture Match Play in February.

"All I can do is control what I do on the golf course," Woods said. "And I won this tournament by 4 shots, so that's something I'm proud of."

Tiger is taking it one tournament at a time. The fans and the players know that he is for real.

Back to what?

Winning at Torrey Pines. For now that's all we know for sure about Tiger.