The final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational became a ceremonial stroll for Tiger Woods in the last stages of Saturday’s third round.
On the 9th hole of that round, Woods hit a drive that was destined to go out of bounds but miraculously hit a tree and stayed in play. Woods was trailing the tournament leader at that time, Justin Rose, by four shots. Woods made a round saving par on the 9th hole and then played a superb back 9 in three under to give him a 66 for the day. Rose would unravel on his back 9 and shoot a pedestrian 39.
This is the 8th time that Woods has won Mr. Palmer’s tournament which ties a record for most wins at one event equaling Sam Snead’s eight victories at Greater Greensboro Open.
The next record that Woods will break will be Snead’s all-time Tour victories, which stand at 82. This was Woods’s 77th PGA Tour win.
In an era that is filled with so many superb players, it is a phenomenal accomplishment. We would consider a player “great” today if they won 20 tournaments and two Majors. Woods has 77 and 14 Majors, and he looks anything but finished.
Woods seems to be finally acclimated and therefore comfortable with his new swing and his ball striking has certainly improved in the last year. His putting, on the other hand, is simply extraordinary. Since getting a putting lesson from good friend, Steve Stricker, on the Wednesday before the WGC event at Doral two weeks ago (which Woods also won), Woods has been unbelievable with the flat stick. Every putt that he hits looks to have a chance to go in. That, more than anything else, should put the ‘fear of Tiger’ in the minds of every other professional.
The final margin of victory was two shots over Justin Rose who rallied nicely to close alone in second place. Rickie Fowler had actually crept up to within two shots of Tiger’s lead after the 14th hole, but a disastrous triple-bogey 8 on the par 5, 16th hole, eliminated the 24- year-old Fowler from contention. Woods made a very conservative bogey 5 on the last hole to finish with a final round 2 under par, 70, but the outcome of this event was never really in doubt.
Woods now re-assumes the mantle at the top of the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time since the final week of October 2010. That stretch of two and a half years is the longest that he gone without being #1 in his career. It will not be something that he relinquishes easily.
This historic win at Bay Hill is his third of the young season and certainly bodes well for his chances at The Masters in two weeks’ time. Woods will now be the prohibitive favorite at an event he has dominated before.
The only real weakness in his game right now is his propensity to hit some erratic drives. Woods now favors a fade (shapes his shots from left to right) and Augusta National favors players who shape their shots from right to left but the fairways are for the most part, some of the most generous in golf. It is also the first Major Championship of the year and Woods hasn’t won a Major since his dramatic win at Torrey Pines in the 2008 US Open.
Woods openly admits that he covets the Major Championships much more than all the other tournaments combined. He has always been forthright in admitting that beating Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 triumphs in the Majors was his single greatest goal.
Ending his almost five year winless drought on golf’s loftiest stage combined with his insatiable desire to break Nicklaus’s record (sometimes we can want things too much) would be the only reasons to give his doubters cause. To do so, however, would be very much at their own risk.