The Associated Press
ORLANDO, Fla.–The future of Tiger Woods is filled with optimism because of the past.
The next stop on his remarkable road to recovery from four years’ worth of back trouble is the Arnold Palmer Invitational–the tournament he has won a record eight times on a course that feels comfortable to him.
There also is a short history of Woods winning at Bay Hill during various comebacks.
When he was out nearly nine months recovering from reconstructive surgery, his first victory back was at Bay Hill when he made a 15-foot birdie for a one-shot win over Sean O’Hair.
After going more than two years without winning on the PGA Tour while trying to patch his personal life back together, Woods finally broke through at Bay Hill with a five-shot victory over Graeme McDowell.
Six months after Woods wasn’t sure if he would be able to compete again at a high level, he is the betting favourite at Bay Hill.
That stems from his runner-up finish last week at Innisbrook, where he was never more than three shots behind in the final round and had a long birdie putt at the end to force a playoff.
He looks closer than ever to winning. And he always seems to win at Bay Hill.
If it only it were that simple.
“Just because I won here eight times doesn’t mean I’m going to win this week automatically,” Woods said.
“I’ve still got to do the work,” he stressed. “I’ve still got to go through the process of getting myself in position.”
At least he knows the course–even if he hasn’t been here in five years.
Marc Leishman is the defending champion, getting up-and-down with a 45-yard pitch shot that rolled out to three feet for par on the final hole.
In some respects, so is Woods. He won in 2013 by two shots over Justin Rose, a victory that returned him to No. 1 in the world.
Now he is at No. 149, which sounds good only when considering that he was No. 1,199 five tournaments ago.
Las Vegas thinks so highly of Woods, especially after his runner-up finish at the Valspar Championship, that the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook has him favoured at 6-1 to win at Bay Hill.
It’s the first time Woods has been favoured to win a PGA Tour event since Torrey Pines in 2014.
“We keep saying it’s surprising but it’s Tiger Woods, for God’s sake,” said Jason Day, who at 12-1 is the second betting favourite.
Bay Hill will be a different test from Innisbrook, mainly because it requires a little more length off the tee and with unseasonably cool air this week, the ball isn’t likely to travel as far.
Day was explaining the difference when he looked over to the right at a TV screen showing–who else?–Woods.
Woods is everywhere this week. He has a long list of highlights at Bay Hill, mostly birdie putts on the 18th hole to beat everyone from Phil Mickelson to Bart Bryant.
He won in 2003 by 11 shots while coping with dry heaves from food poisoning.