While he didn't win, Tiger still the big winner at Arnold Palmer Invitational
Woods finished tied for fifth at Bay Hill on Sunday
March 18, 2018
By Jim McCabe, PGATOUR.COM
Tiger Woods' interview after Round 4 of Arnold Palmer
ORLANDO, Fla. – Wide right Thursday, Friday and Saturday with his drives at the par-5 16th at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge, Tiger Woods was in trouble. But that’s never a bad place for him, so it’s no surprise that he made birdie each day.
What was a surprise — a shock, even — was that Woods, standing in the furnace-like competitive arena for the first time in nearly five years, rifled his drive at 16 hard left in Sunday’s fourth round. More than trouble, it was out of bounds. That meant game, set, match in Woods’ pulsating charge at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard, this showcase event bequeathed to the PGA TOUR by golf’s greatest ambassador having never had so much electricity.
Woods, of course, provided dozens and dozens of kilowatts, playing for the fifth time in this comeback but for the first time at Bay Hill since he won his eighth Arnold Palmer Invitational in 2013. Yet in an assembly fit for Arnie’s grand stage, those who gathered just ahead of Woods on the leaderboard brought a bit of juice themselves — Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Bryson DeChambeau — and so the challenge was significant.
So, too, was the Woods aura. Yes, even with so little competitive golf in the last few years. And yes, even when a sloppy bogey at the par-4 ninth seemingly stopped his momentum. Out in 34, he was 9 under and five behind Stenson and DeChambeau. McIlroy and Rose were also ahead of him.
Nothing suggested a comeback was in order — not with so many approaches on the par 4s leaving him birdie tries of more than 30 feet. Nothing, that is, besides the reminder that this is the guy to whom the impossible was possible and the improbable probable, and so when he stuffed it to 8 feet at 10, then got it up-and-down from a back bunker at 12, then jammed his approach to 13 feet at the 13th, he had a trio of birdies and was 12 under.
The roars greenside at 13 clearly thundered back toward Stenson and McIlroy — heck, they were heard over the screams at Thunder Mountain miles away at DisneyWorld — and Woods was certainly sending a message that this comeback was for real. Just in case you didn’t believe it from the T-2 a week ago at the Valspar Championship or the 12th at the Honda Classic before that.
Tiger Woods' solid approach and birdie putt at Arnold Palmer
But for all the positive emotions and all the energy, Woods still has those moments when he looks like he hasn’t been in the competitive arena in a while, like he did at the 16th tee. Having made par at 14 and 15, Woods was 12 under and while the crowd was amped up, he knew that the lads behind him were likely going to make birdies, so he had to keep the foot on the gas.
It was no time to blink, but that’s what he did.
“I was caught. I didn’t decide what I was going to do (on 16 tee),” Woods said. “If I hit driver, I’ve got to fit it, I’ve got to cut it in there.”
He then considered just blasting it hard and far, “bomb it over the top,” but in the end it’s “on me for not committing.”
He bailed out, pulled it wide left and on a day when the field average was 4.403, Woods made one of just six bogeys at 16.
It crushed his chances, but not his spirits. He understood that he realistically couldn’t have finished any better than 15 under (eagle 16, maybe birdie 18). In the end, McIlroy tore it up and won at 18 under.
Woods digested the fact that he had closed with a 3-under 69, that 11 of his last 12 rounds have been at par or better, that he’s been in the 60s five of his last seven rounds and, best of all, “if you (had told) me at the beginning of the year that I would have had a chance to win two golf tournaments, I would have taken that in a heart beat.”
At the end of a day that saw him finish 10-under and tied for fifth, the wild drive left at 16 and the subsequent bogey at the par-3 17th didn’t even factor in his takeaway from the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Instead, he rode home to Jupiter on an emotional high.
“The fans gave me all the adrenaline in the world,” he said, “and to be in contention . . . if I can play with no pain and I can feel like I can make golf swings; each tournament has gotten a little crisper.”
It was time to go. The presentation on the 18th green was set to begin. The trophy went to McIlroy and his brilliant closing 64.
Just don’t tell Woods he didn’t go home the biggest winner.