Showdown with Fowler stands between Woods and No. 8 at Bay Hill

March 23, 2013
Brian Wacker

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Rickie Fowler has some extra motivation heading into Sunday at Bay Hill.

“After Memorial, I’m looking for a little redemption,” Fowler said.

You want it Rickie, you got it. Be careful what you wish for, though.

Last summer, Fowler and Woods were paired together for the final round at Jack’s place.

The scores that day: 84 for Fowler, 67 for Woods, who not only dusted his playing partner by 17 shots but won in the process.

Saturday, it was Fowler who shot 67, this time at Arnie’s place, Bay Hill, to earn another date with Woods.

The two will be paired together for Sunday’s final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard, where Woods, who carded a sizzling 66 in the third round, will be going for his third win of the season and eighth in the event.

A win by Woods would be a momentous occasion: He would move atop the FedExCup standings with a victory, becoming the first player to hold the top spot in five different seasons. Additionally, he’d match Sam Snead as the only other player to win the same tournament eight times and move back to No. 1 in the world for the first time since Oct. 30, 2010.

Not that Fowler cares much about any of that.

“I’m feeling good about the pairing, about my game,” he said. “I’m going in there with the attitude that I have nothing to lose and we’ll see what happens from there.”

As good as Woods has been in this spot -- he’s converted 51 of 55 third-round leads into wins, including 20 of his last 21 -- Fowler does have reason to feel pretty good about his chances.

Fowler made six birdies and just one bogey in the third round. He also took 24 putts and has the fewest putts of anyone in the field through the first three rounds with 76.

That last stat might seem misleading when you consider that Fowler is 66th in the field in greens hit, but there’s something to be said for getting up and down, too.

Woods is also a familiar face to Fowler. The two belong to the same club in Jupiter, The Medalist, and have played together on more than a few occasions. Fowler recently won the member-guest there and also captured the pro-member at Seminole Country Club, which Woods also took part in.

“He’s definitely the guy to beat but I’ll be right there to see what’s going on,” Fowler said. “With him having leads on courses he loves like this and Torrey Pines and Doral, and I’m sure there are others, he’s basically never lost with a lead in the final round.”

And that’s a fact not lost on Woods, who was pretty spectacular on Saturday. Nor should it be on anyone else, especially given how well Woods has been playing.

Woods, who began the day four shots off the pace at Bay Hill, made his move on the lead with three birdies in a four-hole stretch in the middle of the front nine.

He added another on No. 10, flagging a wedge to a foot.

Woods’ only hiccups of the day came on Nos. 12 and 13. He badly pulled his tee shot on the former, the ball hitting a tree and saving him from out of bounds before he saved par on the par-5, and on the latter found the sand twice before failing to get up and down to save par.

Any doubts were quickly erased, however, when Woods birdied the 15th hitting what he called his best shot of the day, a pure 6-iron to 15 feet. On the par-5 16th, he reached the green in two and poured in a 20-footer that sent the fans into a frenzy and elicited a familiar fist pump.

“I just understand how to fix my game,” Woods said, explaining the difference in his play now from when he won here a year ago. “It's taken me a while. I was hurt for a long time. The changes to make the swing from where I was to now is a pretty big change.

“I hit a bad shot here and there, and that's easy to fix. I know what my fix is going to be and that makes a big difference.”

And it will make for a big Sunday with Woods and Fowler going mano-a-mano, which translates in English to hand-to-hand.

There are others who could have a hand in the outcome, too, of course. John Huh and Justin Rose are tied with Fowler at 9 under and will play in the next-to-last group. Six others are another stroke back.

But there’s a certain comfort level that comes over Woods when he walks around Bay Hill.

It helps to putt the way he did, too. Woods had just 25 putts Saturday, including 11 one-putts.

Woods is also more grounded in the swing changes he’s made and is healthier than he was a year ago when he walked off at Doral with an Achilles injury.

“I'm much more comfortable, but also I think that I'm feeling pretty good physically,” Woods said. “That was huge.

“I've had one more year of working on my game, and here I am.”

You ready, Rickie?