ORLANDO — His ball safely over the water, Tiger Woods walked toward the 18th green Sunday as he had done over the past 30 months on the PGA Tour, with one big difference.
There was no mistaking that smile.
"Pure joy," he said.
Woods finally brought the buzz back to the thing that made him famous: winning.
Two weeks after another injury scare, Woods looked dominant as ever to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. It was his first tour victory since a sex scandal at the end of 2009 turned his life — including his game — upside down.
Woods closed with 2-under 70 and won by five shots, with 13-under 275, over Graeme McDowell.
"I think he really just kind of nailed home his comeback," McDowell said. "Great to have a front-row seat watching maybe the greatest of all time doing what he does best, winning golf tournaments."
Kneeling to look at his line as he waited his turn to putt on the 18th, Woods tapped his putter on the ground and could barely contain a grin, knowing the longest tour drought of his career, 26 tournaments, was about to end. When he tapped in for par, he clenched a fist, screamed out, "Yeah!" and hugged his caddie, Joe LaCava.
"He was a man on a mission (Sunday)," LaCava said. "He was pretty jacked up. He was out there to prove himself."
Walking off the green, Woods extended his black cap for a sweeping wave toward the gallery.
"It's not like winning a major championship or anything," Woods said. "But it certainly feels really good."
Two weeks ago, Woods was taken off the course at the Cadillac Championship at Doral in the final round with tightness in his left Achilles tendon, the injury that caused him to miss three months last year, including two majors. It turned out to be a mild strain, and Sunday was the eighth straight day that Woods played golf, starting with a practice round the previous Sunday at Augusta.
Woods downplayed the significance of his win, pointing out on more than once he considers it his second win since the scandal. He counts the Chevron World Challenge in December, when he went birdie-birdie to beat an 18-man field of top-50 players.
But Woods won against a full field for the first time since the Australian Masters on Nov. 15, 2009, and with a performance so clean that he was never seriously challenged on the back nine.
"I've gotten better, and that's the main thing," he said. "I've been close for a number of tournaments now. And it was just a matter of staying the course and staying patient, keeping working on fine-tuning what we're doing. And here we are."
Woods goes to No. 6 in the world rankings, returning to the top 10 for the first time since May 22.
"Heading home now and I can't stop smiling," Woods said on Twitter about three hours after his win. "Thanks to Otown fans and everyone watching for all the love."
McDowell made a 45-foot birdie putt and a 50-foot eagle putt early in the round to try to stay close, but he was never closer than two shots after starting with double bogey. He closed with 74. Ian Poulter (74) was third at 6 under.
Ernie Els failed in his bid to get into the Masters next month. This was the final week for players to get in by being in the world ranking's top 50. Els needed a two-way tie for second to crack it. Instead, he shot 75, tied for fourth and moved up only four spots, to No. 58. He has to win the Houston Open next weekend to avoid missing the Masters for the first time since 1993.
LPGA: Top-ranked Yani Tseng won the Kia Classic at Carlsbad, Calif., for her second straight tour title and third in five events this year. She closed with 2-under 70 for a six-stroke win over Sun Young Yoo (71) at 14-under 274. Tseng, 23, became the second-youngest player to reach 15 tour wins. Nancy Lopez was 22 when she did it in 1979. Seminole's Brittany Lincicome shot 71 and finished at 3 under.
champions: Fred Couples made an 8-foot birdie putt on the final hole to win the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic at Saucier over Michael Allen. Couples, who started the day tied for the lead with Jeff Sluman, shot 3-under 69 for 14-under 202. Allen shot 66. Sluman (73) finished four back.
europe: Michael Hoey shot 7-under 65 to win the Hassan II Trophy by three strokes, ending Matteo Manassero's bid to qualify for the Masters. Hoey totaled 17-under 271 at Agadir, Morocco. Manassero, 18, needed to win to enter the world top 50 to make the Masters. He shot 72 for 276.
Tiger Time again
Facts and figures from Tiger Woods' win Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
• Woods's last PGA Tour win before Sunday came at the 2009 BMW Championship (September), his last official worldwide win at the 2009 Australian Masters (November).
• Woods snapped a streak of 26 official tour events and 30 official worldwide events without a win.
• Since Woods' last tour win, there had been 71 different winners and 37 first-time winners. Steve Stricker had the most wins of any player, five.
• Woods' 72 tour wins are third all time. Jack Nicklaus has 73.
• Woods won the Palmer event for a seventh time, matching his most wins in any tour event.
• Woods' seven Palmer wins are one shy of the most by anybody in one tour event since 1920. Sam Snead had eight wins at the Greater Greensboro Open.
Source: ESPN Stats and Info