MELBOURNE, Australia -- As he played the Royal Melbourne course again on Sunday, leading his U.S. Presidents Cup team to victory first as a player before settling into his captain's role, it was difficult not to yearn for a circumstance in which Tiger Woods could play this Sandbelt gem in a stroke-play tournament.
So on form was Woods through the three matches he played in Australia that it was yet another reminder of his golfing genius, his ability to think and plot and imagine his way around one of the game's great layouts, a course far more about brains than brawn.
At just over 7,000 yards, Royal Melbourne cannot be overpowered like so many of the venues offered for professional golf today. It has numerous doglegs, slopes, undulating greens and a firmness that requires precision.
And when Woods has his health and his game, there is still nobody better at dissecting a course's subtle nuances and finding the right shot, whether it be a pitch and run to a sloping pin or a lofted iron that he spins back or a 140-foot putt from off the green -- such as the one he had on the final day of competition here that he cozied up near the cup in his match with Mexico's Abraham Ancer.
Woods capped a successful week with a 3 and 2 victory over Ancer that included seven birdies over 16 holes. He made six birdies on his own ball on Thursday in a match with Justin Thomas. He hit the perfect iron shot to set up Thomas' winning birdie putt a day later.
All the while, Woods looked like the best player among the 24 in the Presidents Cup, and that is no disrespect to Thomas, who went 3-1-1 but saw his older idol carry him on Day 1. Woods is the only player who did not have a loss at Royal Melbourne. That he got the first point on Sunday on the way to a 16-14 United States victory was even better.
"I hit it well this week,'' Woods said. "It was good. I was responsible for three points, J.T. and I went and got two and happened to play well and got Abe today.
"Abe wanted it; he got it.''
Laughter ensued, and anyone who has been around Woods for some time saw the vintage Tiger come out, the one who suffers no fools and forgets nothing. Ancer had somewhat innocently said last month that he wanted to play Woods in singles at the Presidents Cup; Woods was well aware.
But in keeping with his team-first mentality, Woods would not elaborate about his own game at the moment. It's fair to wonder whether his level of play now is as good or better than it was when he won the Masters in April. After a summertime lull when injuries hampered him, Woods returned after knee surgery to win the Zozo Championship, finish fourth at the Hero World Challenge and put together an excellent individual week here.
"He's playing unbelievably,'' Thomas said. "A course like this ... most courses benefit him, but as much control as he has of his golf ball and how high he can hit it and different shots, I think he would have been tough to beat. I know I'm glad he was my partner the first two days, because I probably would have lost both my matches.''
All of it makes you wonder why Woods ever took on this role. He is too young at 43 and playing too well to be a captain. And yet, the playing-captain role seemed a lark when he accepted the assignment for this job nearly two years ago.
While Woods might not have a lot of years left in an injury-ravaged body, he sure looks good now, leading to high expectations in 2020.
Woods never quite went so far as to say when he took this role that he did so because he thought his playing career was over; but it is a reasonable guess. At that point, he had yet to come back from spinal fusion surgery. He had twice been an assistant captain, at the 2016 Ryder Cup and the 2017 Presidents Cup. His first meaningful tournament had yet to be played.
Now look at him. A winner of three of his past 14 official PGA Tour events. Another major victory, his 15th. An 82nd PGA Tour victory to tie Sam Snead. A successful individual performance at the Presidents Cup, as well as a victory as captain.
It's been some year.
"It was pretty awesome to play for the greatest player ever,'' said Matt Kuchar, who clinched the winning margin of victory when he was assured of a half point in his match against Louis Oosthuizen. "To have a chance to make a team captained by the greatest player ever that is also a player on the team. I can't tell you how unique, how good of a thing that is, to not only play for him, but alongside him.
"And for us, to be in a hole, to come back and win this thing was such a thrill. One, to win it as a team, but to do it with Tiger Woods as our captain was just a huge thrill.''
Woods downplayed the emotion he showed afterward, but winning as a captain clearly meant a great deal to him. He never emitted the same joy in his lone Ryder Cup victory experience as a player (1999) and all of the Presidents Cup wins going back to 2000.
This was a different kind of satisfaction for him, one he'll cherish. But as he put aside talk of future captaincies, whether it be another Presidents Cup or most certainly a Ryder Cup whenever he wants, it was clear that those things should be a bit into the future.
Unless he wants to be a playing captain again, Woods for now is simply a player. One of the best in the world. Looking like he can be a factor whenever he tees it up.
For Woods, a nice rest is in order after a hectic fall. But deep down, he has to feel that 2020 can't get here soon enough.