-- NASSAU, Bahamas -- Tiger Woods walked off the 18th green at Albany Golf Club on Sunday, completing a 72-hole tournament for the first time in 15 months. It was an achievement that was always going to mean more than his swing, his score and his standing in the Hero World Challenge.
And to think that a good bit of the chatter before the tournament centered around whether he would even start, let alone finish.
Woods did far more than that. In a week's time, he changed the narrative from negative to positive; from concerns about whether he was risking embarrassment to how long it might be before he will win again.
The fact that some might be getting ahead of themselves when it comes to adding more tournament trophies is simply a testament to how good Woods looked this week, which was a pleasant surprise after all of the doom and gloom of the past year.
"It's really awesome to see,'' Jordan Spieth said. "I'm pumped to see what he's doing this week. It's certainly there. If he wasn't rusty, he could (have been) winning this tournament.''
Woods ended up well back of winner Hideki Matsuyama, shooting a final-round 76 that included three double-bogeys. That was the highest score of any player this week. But when you consider there were many who wondered if Woods would break 80, his time in the Bahamas was a rousing success.
"Getting back to this point is beyond anything that I've ever experienced in my lifetime,'' Woods said. "The pain issues that I had, it was rough. To battle back, to battle through it. Frankly there were some pretty dire times where I just couldn't move.''
Among the more impressive aspects of his comeback was the intensity Woods brought to his first tournament since August 2015. There is an understandable sense that Woods has to take things slowly, carefully. That his swing has undergone subtle changes to protect his surgically repaired back. That there would be growing pains, most notably with power and distance.
But going back a week ago, when I was one of two reporters who got to witness Woods during a two-hour practice session at Albany, it quickly became apparent that he is lacking no power or distance; that his ability to shape shots is there.
"I really like how much longer his backswing is -- especially with the driver,'' said Sean Foley, Woods' former coach. "I like that his lower body and pelvis are moving more. The movement is not restricted; it is much more free. He looks great.''
Another former coach, Haney Haney, said: "The swing is smooth; there are no apparent issues.''
Haney correctly pointed out the relative ease of the Albany course, and a few disclaimers are in order. Albany has five par-5s and did not play particularly long; the field consisted of just 18 players, which was reduced to 17 after Justin Rose withdrew with his own back injury; not every player was fully engaged ( Dustin Johnson had not picked up a club since playing in China last month.) And this being an unofficial event meant it would be fun and relaxing with a nice payday as part of it.
But Woods had more birdies than any player other than Matsuyama. Before the tournament, Woods noted how Bubba Watson won at 25 under par last year and figured even getting to 20 under would be "a tall order.''
It was, but who would have thought Woods could make 24 birdies in 72 holes, regardless of the venue?
"His swing looks great,'' said Brandt Snedeker. "It looks like he slowed the rhythm down a little bit. I've been real impressed. He has an innate ability to do things that only a couple of guys in the world can do. I thought the hardest thing to do coming off a long layoff is to come back and shoot a low number. You can shoot 70 or 69, but to shoot 7 under par with no bogeys ... that doesn't happen very often coming off a layoff.''
There were some issues, to be sure. Woods made three bogeys and two double-bogeys on par-5s, going 7 over par on holes where he might be expected to be at least 3 under. That's a 10-shot swing right there.
Woods is unlikely to see as much sand as he did this week since the Albany course is basically lined with waste areas instead of rough. But he had his struggles with long shots out of sand -- not that those are easy for anyone -- and if he misses fairways in most tournaments, he'll have difficult lies in the rough instead.
And yet, we're quibbling, right? Woods had not played a tournament for 15 months, went at least six months of that time without swinging club and had enough reservations about his game that he pulled out of the Safeway Open in October just a few days after he entered.
"You know, only Tiger could take a year and a half off and put up the numbers that he's putting up this week,'' Matsuyama said.
"Everything looks like he can win on a great week, but he isn't winning with his B game,'' Haney said. "For that matter, no one today can do that like Tiger used to do. He will win again, no doubt, unless the short game rears its head again.''
Much has been made of Woods' chipping problems from early in 2015, but he maintains that is the least of his worries at this point. There were no signs of chipping yips at Albany, just possibly a lack of precision that is understandable.
Rickie Fowler said he wasn't surprised by what Woods did here, having seen the improvement when they played together at home in South Florida. But he did note that Woods showed amazing patience and resolve in waiting so long to return while enduring the ups and downs of slow, incremental improvement.
"I can't imagine from where he was early 2000s, arguably the best player to ever play the game, to deal with not being able to put the same move on the ball and hit the same shots that he's used to seeing and to be patient and wait until he was healthy enough to make that progress,'' Fowler said.
This was clearly an emotional, draining week for Woods. In addition to the duties he has as host of the tournament, playing for the first time with all the scrutiny he knew was coming led to an anxiety nobody else in the field faced. Woods admitted that getting past Thursday was a relief, and it allowed him to settle into playing golf.
Sunday was more a reminder that this was never going to be easy, that golf is a difficult game even when at your best, and that Woods still has plenty of obstacles to conquer in his comeback.
But instead of the dark clouds that hung over him for so much of the past year, there is a sunnier outlook heading into 2017. Woods is not likely to play again for at least six weeks, with his next tournament undecided. It could be Abu Dhabi on the European Tour or the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines the following week.
Wherever it is, whenever it is, Woods now has a solid foundation from which to build with plenty of positives to draw on but much work still to do.
"I wasn't going to compare him to the rest of the field,'' said Woods' caddie Joe LaCava. "They've all been playing all year, and they've been playing great. Honestly my goal was to get him through five rounds (including the pro-am) on his feet. That was big.
"You never know what's going to happen, but he looks good walking, looks good over the ball and looks good after he's done playing. And those are all positives.''