Golf: Woods returns to winning ways
By Doug Ferguson
ORLANDO, Fla. ó Tiger Woods had not felt such an adrenaline rush in nine months, especially when he stood over a 12-foot birdie putt Sunday at Bay Hill with only enough sunlight remaining for one last shot.
It made Woods forget that it had been nine months since he played under so much pressure.
And then he made golf remember the magic it had been missing.
With cameras flashing in the approaching darkness, Woods delivered another rock-star moment by making a birdie on the final hole to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational by one shot and match the largest comeback in his PGA Tour career.
“It feels good to be back in contention, to feel the rush,” Woods said. “It’s been awhile, but God, it felt good.”
It sure looked that way.
Just like last year, when Woods made a 25-foot birdie on the final hole at Bay Hill to win by one, he crouched and backpedaled as the putt rolled toward the cup. But instead of slamming his cap to the ground, he gave a roundhouse fist pump and ran into the arms of caddie Steve Williams, who lifted him off the ground in celebration.
Welcome back, Tiger.
“Last year … there wasn’t any big comeback or anything. I was out there just competing as usual,” Woods said. “This time, it was a little bit different. I hadn’t been in the mix since the U.S. Open, so it was neat to feel the heat on the back nine again.”
Starting the final round five shots behind, Woods closed with a 3-under 67 for a one-shot victory over hard-luck Sean O’Hair. It was the third time Woods won at Bay Hill with a birdie putt on the 18th hole, and this uphill putt was the easiest of all.
But it was just as sweet, especially walking off the green to see a beaming tournament host.
“What was it I told you last year?” Palmer said as he grabbed Woods by the shoulder.
He won at Bay Hill for the sixth time, the fourth PGA Tour event he has won at least that often.
Woods had not been atop the leaderboard since he won the U.S. Open in a 19-hole playoff last June. He had reconstructive surgery on his left knee a week later and missed eight months.
With two indifferent results, there were questions whether he would be ready for the Masters in two weeks.
“Certainly, this win definitely validates all the things I’ve been trying to do,” Woods said.
O’Hair made only one birdie and closed with a 73, but he steadied himself along the back nine until a crucial mistake on the 16th hole, when he went at the flag with Woods in the rough. His 7-iron came up short and went into the water, leading to a bogey.
“It’s just a little bit disappointing that I couldn’t close it,” O’Hair said.