Woods has Snead's records in sight

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Tiger Woods celebrates his first victory at Bay Hill with Arnold Palmer in 2000.
March 20, 2013
Brian Wacker,

ORLANDO, Fla. -- For as long as Tiger Woods has ever hit a golf ball, the target has always been Jack Nicklaus and his 18 career major championships.

Along the way, Woods has set a landslide of his own records and lapped others in the process.

Whether Woods catches the Golden Bear remains to be seen. One of Sam Snead's records, on the other hand, is in immediate range this week.

A victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard would be Woods' eighth at this event. That would tie him with Snead as the only players to win a PGA TOUR event eight times.

Snead set his record at the Greater Greensboro Open, starting with his first win in 1936 to his last in 1965 (incidentally, that 27-year span between first and last victories in the same event is also a record). This week is Tiger's first opportunity to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational for the eighth time, having won his seventh a year ago.

Unlike Snead, who won four times at Starmount Forest and four times at Sedgefield in Greensboro, all of Tiger's wins have come on one course, Bay Hill.

“He played well here from the first time he came here,” Palmer, the tournament host, said. “It suits his game from the standpoint of if he can drive it in the
right position, most of the time the shots into the greens will give him an opportunity.”

Even before turning pro, Tiger was winning at Bay Hill. It was his first victory as a junior player.

"I was 15, and I played here and won in extra holes," Woods recalled. "Won on the 19th hole. I think I beat Brad Zwetschke maybe. Something like that? Is that right?  How about that memory, huh? Not that old yet."

Woods has also won seven times as a TOUR pro at Firestone, home of the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational. He'll get another crack at No. 8 later this year.

But for Woods, this week's tournament is not only about the course, but the man behind the course.

"Arnold Palmer's been great over the years to, not just myself, but to all the players out here," he said. "Any time you can come back and support what he's doing, it's very special to us."

Another win this week would certainly be special for Woods on many levels, including a return to No. 1 in the world for the first time in more than 870 days. And it would also move Woods to within five of Snead’s all-time wins record of 82.

“Sam did it for, what, almost 30 years?” Woods said. “Well into his early 50s he won. So it speaks to being consistent and just being there.

“It hasn't been easy, but also then again, over the course of time, I've put myself there so many times that I'd hope I'd cash in a few times along the way.”

Snead's first victory came in 1937. He won five times that season. Three decades later he got his 82nd and final official victory at the age of 52.

During that span, he won seven major championships not to mention countless other unofficial tournaments.

Snead even became the only man to win an LPGA event, capturing the 1962 Royal Poinciana Plaza Invitational.

Last year's win at Arnie’s Place was Woods’ first on TOUR in more than two years. It also served as a sign of things to come.

In the 12 months since Woods coasted to a five-shot victory here, he’s added four more wins, a record matched only by the player Woods is trying to supplant in the Official World Golf Rankings, Rory McIlroy.

“It's been a long process,” said Woods, who at one point had fallen outside the top 50 in the world. “I was hurt for a long time, I had to make swing changes that were drastically different than what I was doing before.

“To gradually work my way back, that's something I'm proud of.”

Consistency is also something Woods is proud of. It's also a trait he shares with Snead.

Snead won in nine of his first 10 years on TOUR. Nine of those years he had at least four victories.

Four 14 straight years, Woods won at least once on TOUR. In 11 of those years, he won at least four times in a season.

The streak came to an end in 2010, which was marked by personal tribulations, injury and a swing overhaul.

It took the better part of two years for the latter to take hold. Once it did, Woods started to resemble his former self.

Woods’ competitors have even noticed a difference this year.

“Every time I see him tee it up, he hits it off the center of the bat, hits it solidly all the time,” FedExCup points leader Brandt Snedeker said. “That is a very underrated quality. Not very many guys do that.

“When I say Tiger is sharp, he's hitting it where he looks. His iron play is sharp. You don't shoot his number at Doral without being sharp. That was pretty unbelievable. Those greens are baked out. They were fast. The wind was blowing. It was not an easy golf course, not as easy as he made it look.”

Making it look easy is what Woods has done at Bay Hill. Four of his victories here have been by at least four shots. One of them was by 11.

Now he hopes to attach his name to another number: Eight.

A 77th wouldn’t be so bad, either, and the career wins mark, whatever it ends up being, is something that might never be broken.

“It gets harder and harder with each generation,” Woods said. “The talent pool gets better. Kids are getting more athletic. Now we get kids turning pro at 15, 16. It's different. They're going to have more years where they can win more tournaments.”

And Woods is going to win more, too.

“The record (Snead) set is great,” Palmer said. “Can Tiger do that? I don't think there is any question about the fact that he can win that many tournaments. I think he can, and I think he probably will.”