Is Tiger Woods Getting Even Better?

LA JOLLA, Calif. -- Unlike the Southern California weather prognosticators, Tiger Woods was on target all week at the Buick Invitational.

The doom and gloom predictions had Torrey Pines a saturated mess and the PGA Tour event's conclusion in doubt. But overnight rain turned out to be a mere nuisance, and although Woods did not stroll as much as slosh around the course Sunday, it was an easy victory, nonetheless.

An eight-shot lead at the start of the final round quickly turned into 11 before he settled for a final margin of eight, a result that appeared inevitable as early as Friday. The weekend left no suspense -- only worry about whether the storms that have been in the forecast every day would spoil an otherwise glorious day for Woods.

With a fourth straight victory at the Buick and third in a row on the PGA Tour dating to last year, all the offseason chatter about this having the potential to be a monster year for Woods takes on more validity.

"He's just that much better," said PGA Tour veteran Fred Couples. "It's not surprising. As a player, it's fun to see. I've been out here 25 years, and I've never seen this."

Sure, Torrey is Tiger's turf, a place where he has won six times. But consider that the U.S. Open returns here in June, that he already has won four Masters at Augusta National and that he finished second -- one shot out of a playoff -- 10 years ago at Royal Birkdale, site of this year's British Open.

No wonder Woods said a few weeks ago that the Grand Slam was "easily within reason."

"I think it's the development of my game over the years," Woods said when asked about the Grand Slam talk. "For most of my career, I've won more than four tournaments per year, and all I have to do is win the right four, and I've done those a few times.

"I think if you put it all together, have luck on your side, all the stars will line up, and it certainly is possible. A couple of years ago, I came within four shots of at least being in a playoff -- winning or being in a playoff -- in all four. So yeah, I think it's possible."

The way Woods played this week will certainly not diminish such confidence. There was a smidgen of doubt when the season began because golf games, golf swings, come and go. Even Tiger's. He seemed to answer the concerns last month at his own Target World Challenge, where, despite a 10-week break from competition, he blitzed the elite 16-player field and won by seven shots.

Still, that was an offseason event. Who knows the competitive mind-set of everyone there? It was a few weeks before the holidays, a low-key event, a money grab.

More questions would arise this week against a strong field and after another lengthy break. And he answered almost all of them. Woods led the field in putting, was second in greens hit in regulation and made just five bogeys in 72 holes -- three coming on the back nine Sunday when it hardly mattered.

If there remains an issue -- and we're quibbling here -- it continues to be his driving accuracy. Woods himself lamented his inability to get his driver to behave on the golf course as it does in practice. But he still wins by eight shots?

"He's the best player the game has ever seen, as far as I'm concerned," said Stewart Cink, who played in Woods' group over the weekend. "Just to watch him play and see how he goes about his business. I like how he stays calm and stays on task, whether he's two or three shots behind or eight shots ahead. It's the same Tiger Woods. He makes it look easy, but it's not easy."

Woods also won his first tournament of the year after his name was at the center of controversy for three weeks after remarks by Golf Channel anchor Kelly Tilghman that got her suspended and had commentators calling for him to take more of a stand on social issues.

"Honestly … everyone needs to leave the guy alone," Couples said. "Every time he gets upset, he wins by 15 shots. We have to tout him, tell him how great he is, be enamored."

Woods became the first player to win different tournaments four straight years. He also won the Bay Hill Invitational, now called the Arnold Palmer Invitational, four straight times from 2000 to 2003.

The victory tied Woods with Palmer for fourth on the all-time list of PGA Tour wins at 62, and the two have been known to rib each other through the years. But Woods won't do so with today's standard way of messaging.

"Does he actually receive texts?" Woods said, laughing. Well, Arnie, 78, is not known for such technological prowess -- unless it comes to flying his own airplane.

"The relationship Arnold and I have … I think it'll be more fun when I get to the point where I get one up on him and I can jab him a little bit because he's always jabbed me," Woods said. "That's the great thing about Arnold. He's the best that way."

It would only be fitting if Woods passed Palmer at the latter's own invitational tournament in March. And it's possible. After playing next week at the Dubai Desert Classic on the European Tour -- which does not count on his PGA Tour record -- Woods is expected to play just once more before Bay Hill, at the Accenture Match Play Championship.

There are no guarantees there, even for Woods.

Then again, he has proved to be far better at delivering than the weather folks.

Bob Harig is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

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