Against all odds – Tiger’s home again
There aren’t many courses left in world golf that Tiger Woods hasn’t conquered. But there is one that stands out from the rest as the one where the American former world no.1 feels most at home.
Bay Hill in Orlando – where the Arnold Palmer Invitational finishes off the Florida Swing this week on the PGA Tour – has come under Woods’ spell.
It is an incredible eight times that the 42-year-old has won there, and after his second-place finish at the Valspar Championship last week, Woods has been declared one of the favourites to take home the title on Sunday. But what a field he has to compete against this weekend.
The Best of the Best
Five of the world’s top ten are in attendance from Thursday alongside Woods who, it must be remembered, has only played four tournaments since his return and currently is world number 149.
Co-host for the week Rickie Fowler, 2014 Champion Golfer of the Year Rory McIlroy and Jason Day – who won this tournament back in 2016 - are all in attendance. Also back is Hideki Matsuyama following his wrist problems while the defending champion Marc Leishman will be back to try and retain his crown.
After a missed cut last week at the Valspar, expect McIlroy to come out firing while Fowler – who will be wearing some new shoes to honour the great Arnold Palmer 19 months since his passing – will be itching to get back on the winning trail.
The last of Woods’ eight wins here came back in 2013 when he narrowly edged out Justin Rose in an epic duel. After Paul Casey’s win last week at the Valspar, can Rose continue the winning run for Englishmen this season that also includes Matt Wallace at last week’s Indian Open?
Tyrrell Hatton is also in the field and he tied fourth at this event last year, as is Tommy Fleetwood – course record holder at Carnoustie – and a top ten finisher at Bay Hill in 2017 when Leishman emerged victorious.
Woods from the trees
The Valspar suited Woods’ remodelled swing last week, as the 42-year-old took iron or three-wood off the tee early and often to work his way around a tactical course. But the driver will need to come out the bag a bit more regularly this weekend at the Bay Hill where par fives are traditionally your best scoring opportunities.
At 7,419 yards long, Woods will need to be more accurate with the big stick if he is to conquer an invitational field that has also been won by former Claret Jug winners Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and the, the eponymous Arnold Palmer himself.
And with Carnoustie and The Open four months away, a return to the winners’ circle for a ninth time here in Orlando would set the world of golf aflame. Tiger is back and he’s burning bright.