Monday Backspin: Tiger's putter has him back on top

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March 26, 2013
Brian Wacker,

ORLANDO, Fla. -- A year ago, Tiger Woods was pressing.

Now? He’s back on top, literally and figuratively, after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard for a record eighth time.

“I felt like maybe my game wasn't quite consistent enough to be there at that point,” Woods said of some of his 2012 struggles that included a tie for 40th at the Masters. “I've gotten so much better since those events, and I've cleaned up a lot of different things in my game.”

Most notably his short game.

Woods’ wedges are vastly improved and so is his putting.

“There were a few shots out there that I was excited about that I played,” he said.

Specifically the par-3 14th, where Woods came up short and right of the green in the final round, leaving himself a 20-yard chip shot. He hit it up the hill with a little draw spin and killed it into the grain with the ball stopping within a few feet of the hole.

“To pull off a shot like that when I really need it, it feels pretty sweet,” Woods said.

It also showed the imagination and touch is back, much like his putting. He led the field in strokes gained-putting and leads the PGA TOUR in that stat this season.

“The very beginning of the year I was excited because of how the end of last year turned,” said Woods, who ended last season with three wins.

Right now, this season is turning out pretty well for Woods.

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“I was trying to birdie every hole, I was trying to be aggressive, and he can force you into that.” -- Justin Rose on the difficulty of trying to catch Tiger Woods on a Sunday.

“Over a period of time it's been years since I've hit the ball this consistently day-in and day-out.” -- Woods on the last time he hit the ball as well as he has this season.

“I’ve dreamed of this since I was a boy.” -- 12-year-old Ye Wocheng on qualifying for the China Open.

“He wants me to play with a lot more aggression and be cocky and just pretend like I’m playing him, which is normally a pretty good beating.” -- Keegan Bradley on recent advice from Michael Jordan. 

TWEETS OF THE WEEK

@TigerWoods: Just posted some pictures of @Lindseyvonn and me on Facebook. -- Woods announcing that he and the Olympic skier are dating.

 @TigerWoods: Thanks to Mr. Palmer for a great week, I got your back. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8cFKBM5adMo -- Woods after winning at Bay Hill for an eighth time. He also included a link to a pretty hilarious new spot he and Palmer filmed for the Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 14 video game. 

@lindseyvonn: Number 1 !!!!!!!!!!!!! -- Vonn after the win by Woods, who returns to No. 1 in the world for the first time since Oct. 31, 2010.

@KingJames: S/0 to Tiger Woods on getting back to Num. 1 in the world! -- LeBron James giving a shout out to the King of Bay Hill.

THE BACK NINE: 9 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. When was the last time Tiger Woods felt this good heading into the year’s first major? “It’s been a few years,” he said. Woods doesn’t open up and get deep very often, but that’s a pretty telling statement, and he was talking about more than just his health. “I'm very pleased that some of the shots that I struggled with last year are now strengths,” Woods said. “One of the things that we need to continue to work on is getting it more refined. My good ones are really good. It’s just making sure the bad ones aren't that bad, whether it's a driver, 3-wood, long-iron, wedge, whatever it is, that I'm missing the ball in the correct spots. That's getting way better.”

2. Woods, by the way, has won three events before the Masters on three other occasions -- in 2000, 2003 and 2008. He did not win the Masters in any of those years. Is there something to that? Not a chance, considering the historic season he had in 2000 and his win on a broken leg at the 2008 U.S. Open.

3. Woods is No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking again, but Rory McIlroy can regain the top spot with a victory this week in Houston.

4. Maybe Rickie Fowler felt the nerves, maybe not. But when you’re two strokes down with three holes to play, you have to do something spectacular. Fowler tried to, but he hit his 7-iron “a little heavy” and ended up in the water on the par-5 16th. The second one in the drink didn’t matter; Fowler was already out of it and deflated. But he certainly wasn’t uncomfortable in the pairing. He and Woods play together regularly at the Medalist and Fowler has his own huge fan base anyway. “I felt like I settled into the round probably the best I had in the final group,” Fowler said. “It's just unfortunate to make that swing at that time.”

5. Speaking of feeling comfortable, Fowler is seeing a different Woods these days. “This year he looks a lot more comfortable out there,” Fowler said. “He doesn't really miss many shots. If he does, it's not by a whole lot.”

6. Brandt Snedeker said last week that sometimes an injury can be a good thing because it allows you to get some rest and reevaluate the year. He needed it after injuring his ribs during his victory at Pebble Beach, but after five weeks away he also looked pretty rusty with a pair of 76s at Bay Hill. Snedeker will try to right the ship this week in Houston.

7. What were Woods and Arnold Palmer cracking up over on the 18th green Monday at Bay Hill? “Boy, I can't say it here,” Woods said. “But it was funny. Really funny, actually.” The way Palmer reacted, it must have been.

8. Stat of the Week I: Woods was a combined 14 under on the par 5s at Bay Hill with nine birdies, three eagles and one bogey. Considering Woods was 13 under for the week that should tell you something about the importance of his dominance on par 5s.

9. Stat of the Week II: Woods’ three eagles last week brings his total for the year to six. He had just four in all of 2012.

MONDAY BACKSPIN MAILBAG
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What about Tiger Woods convinces you he's more likely to win the Masters than, say, Phil Mickelson, who has won there twice since Tiger’s last one? -- Ben Coley

Two of the last three years Woods has finished fourth at the Masters without his short game being very good. This season, it’s much improved with Woods being much more accurate from 40 yards and in, and that includes his bunker play and his putting. I would be slightly concerned about his ability to hit the draw on certain holes at Augusta, but his misses with the driver have been far less wild, for the most part, than in the past few years.

Who do you like more at Augusta -- Hunter Mahan, Graeme McDowell or Ian Poulter? -- Eamon Carroll

There are several tee shots there McDowell “hates,” he told me. Both Mahan and Poulter have a couple of top 10s there but neither has been phenomenal. Poulter’s short game has carried him, so if I was picking between the three, I would guess he’ll have the best finish.

Have a question for the mailbag? Email your question to brianwacker@pgatourhq.com, or tweet it to @pgatour_brianw.

Forward Spin: Who I like this week
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The Shell Houston Open prides itself on being a place to prep for the Masters with a similar course setup to Augusta National and for some the last stop before the year’s first major. The only difference this season is that it’s being played two weeks before the Masters instead of one. Nonetheless, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy are in the field and I think the former could make some noise. Mickelson is coming off a missed cut and his highest ever career round at Bay Hill. He said his game feels further off than it actually is and that he needed to get some work done with coach Butch Harmon. That usually portends good things for Mickelson, especially in Houston, where he has finished fourth and won the last two years.

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