Tiger Woods is officially back. Back to winning that is. The question for the last 924 days has been, “Will Tiger Woods ever win again?” Now we have the answer. Yes. Woods breezed to five-shot win over Graeme McDowell at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Master Card at Bay Hill Club and Lodge. Ian Poulter was third, seven back. This is Wood’s first official Tour win since September of 2009 when he won the BMW Championship in Chicago. If you’re scoring at home, this makes 72 career victories on Tour and over 95 million dollars in career earnings.
Woods was spectacular all week and Sunday wasn’t any different. Woods was only one of ten players to shoot 70 or better in the final round as the course was averaging two- shots over par. Woods finished the week with all four rounds under par (69, 65, 71 and 70) to post 13-under par 275 for his seventh-career victory at Bay Hill. I guess he likes this course. Woods started the day with a one-shot lead on 2010 U.S. Open Champion Graeme McDowell and a three-shot lead over two-time former U.S. Open Champion Ernie Els and Ian Poulter. McDowell, Els and Poulter were just witnesses to the return of Woods to the winner’s circle. McDowell didn’t make enough putts to put any real pressure on Woods and Els and Poulter didn’t fire on Sunday either. The afternoon ended as it had 57 of the 74 times that Woods had been in the final group and that’s with a “W”.
Woods used the same formula this week that he has so many times before in victories: Destroy the par-fives, smash GIR and make everything he sees under ten feet on the greens. Tiger was 12-under on the par-fives. He was first GIR. He was fourth in strokes gained-putting. It sounds so simple and it looked even easier this week. The best news is now we don’t have to hear when he’s going to win again. That question will now be replaced with how many majors he will this year. It’s always “what’s next” with Tiger. His greatness forces those questions to be continually asked. It drives the television, the newspapers, magazines and the internet. He is the face of golf and now that he’s won again the questions will continue but for completely different reasons.
Déjà vu All Over Again?
For one of the very few times this season the 54-hole leader went on to win the golf tournament. Coming from behind to win had been the norm in 2012, but nothing that involves Tiger Woods is normal except for winning. Woods has now won at Bay Hill seven times and trails Sam Snead (Greater Greensboro Open, eight times) by one victory to tie the all-time wins at a Tour event. Impressively, Woods held off two major champions while doing so. Not an easy feat when trying to win for the first time since 2009.
What’s next for Tiger? Well, I would think more practice, some more practice and then hype surrounding his return to Augusta to try and win another major. Oh, and Hank Haney’s book comes out Monday. Think that might make a few waves this week? Me neither…
With this victory, Woods earns $1,080,000 and 500 FedExCup points. He’s now currently seventh in the FedExCup standings.
Young Guns versus Old Guns
In 14 tournaments this season the "Young versus Old" argument now stands at 8-2-4 as I will chalk 36-year old Tiger Woods up to the middle again this week.
For the young, Johnson Wagner (31), Brandt Snedeker (31), Kyle Stanley (24) and Bill Haas (29), John Huh (21), Hunter Mahan (29), Rory McIlroy (22) and Justin Rose (31) lead the way for the Young guys.
Mark Wilson (37) is joined by George McNeill (36), Luke Donald (34) and now Tiger Woods (36) in the middle, a half-point for each.
Steve Stricker (44) and Phil Mickelson (41) are flying the flag for the old folks on Tour.
Tiger Woods also broke up a three-week winning streak by the “rest of the world” on Tour.
Graeme McDowell: Unfortunately for McDowell, Woods was in the tournament this week or he would have been cruising along to his second career win on Tour. Starting Sunday just one back, his fried-egg bunker ball on number one led to a double-bogey that he never recovered from playing against Woods, let alone the course. G-Mac thought he needed three or four-under on the day to win or get in a playoff, but those rounds just weren’t on the course today as Brian Harman and J.B. Holmes were the only two players to fire in the 60’s on Sunday. He recovered with a 51-foot eagle on six to get within two shots of the lead, but his 38 on the back allowed Woods to run and hide. But, after being T1 in fairways and GIR, McDowell’s game is peaking at the right time. McDowell’s was T9 at Honda, T13 at WGC-CC and now second alone at API in his last three starts. He shoots to the top of the list of favorites next week at Houston and has to be on your radar at Augusta in two weeks.
Ian Poulter: He’s been better-known for his Tweeting recently than his golf but that changed this week at API as he finished third alone. Last time out, Poulter struggled at WGC-CC as he was coming off a case of pneumonia. He started 76-77 before picking it up on the weekend with 71-69. After seeing him chop it around the Tavistock Cup on Tuesday, I didn’t think he was completely over his illness. His excellent rounds of 69-68 on Friday and Saturday would suggest otherwise.
Ryan Moore: It’s been an up-and-down season for Moore but his steady play on the weekend saw him hit the top 10 for the first time this season with his T4. Moore only made three bogeys on the weekend and was solid with 50 pars (T5) for the week. After finishing CUT and 76th in his last two events and not having a top 15 in 2012, it’s fair to say I didn’t see this coming. Tying for first in GIR can help get your game back on track and Moore did that this week. By the way, what’s your GIR in you have a hole-in-one? You technically don’t hit the green, right?
Brian Davis: His best finish (T4) of 2012 in seven events leading to API was T38. This week he led the field in pars (55 made), was second in strokes gained-putting and was T11 in GIR. He also tied with Woods in only making 5 bogeys on the week. You would think with those numbers Davis would have been contending for a title this week. His 33 on the back Sunday was one of the best on the day.
Bubba Watson: Ho-hum, another top five for Watson. In seven events in 2012, Watson has made every cut and has not finished worse than T18. Oh, and he has THREE top-five finishes. The one thing that is holding Watson back is his putting and that was evidenced again this week at API. Flying along on Saturday at eight-under, Watson three-putted number 11 from inside three feet for double-bogey, crushing the momentum he gained after turning in 33. He backed that up with bogeys on 15 and 16 before a par on 18 brought him back to five-under. His round on Sunday was just as eventful as he opened with three-consecutive bogeys. Here’s why I like Bubba: In his next ten holes, he still found a way to make four birdies without a bogey. As usual, Watson’s GIR was fantastic (T5) but his strokes gained-putting was 66th.
Ernie Els: After his finish last week at TC, many wondered if Els could find what it takes to close out and win a golf tournament again. His response this week was another top five (T4) but not the win nor finish he needed to qualify for The Masters. The hope was there on Sunday after his excellent 67 on Saturday as he was only three-shots back. Unfortunately for Els, he carded three bogeys in the first 13 holes before making his first birdie at 14. His momentum was short-lived as he went bogey-birdie-bogey before a par on 18 to finish three-over 75. Els’s last three times out have been T21, T5 and now T4. Circle him next week for Houston where he can still get to Augusta with a win.
Bud Cauley: After being CUT at Honda, Cauley took a week off before teeing it up again at TC. He finished T16 last week for his second top-16 finish of 2012. He backed that up this week with T4 after a solid 68 on Saturday. Cauley’s putting was the difference this week as he was in the top 20 in the three major putting categories. He’s now made seven cuts in nine starts in his first full-year on Tour.
Kevin Na: Na joins Bubba Watson this week in hitting his third top-five of 2012 with his T4 finish. Na has always been a solid putter that was evidenced this week as he was T2 in putts per round and T4 in putts per GIR. Seven birdies and one bogey saw him shoot up the leader board Friday and Saturday. His opening and closing pair of 73’s were the difference this week. This is the third time in four years that Na has hit the top 11 at Bay Hill. Noted.
Johnson Wagner: Make it three players this week to hit the top five for the third time in 2012! After his WIN at Sony and his T2 at Humana, Wagner now adds T4 at API to his increasingly growing resume. Wagner also sits atop of the FedExCup standings currently. Wagner relies on his putting as the key to his success and this week was not any different as he was 13th in strokes gained-putting. It also didn’t hurt that he was T11 GIR. His last two starts are T13 and T4 plus he’s a former champion at Shell-Houston coming up this week. Year of the Moustache!
“Hey, whatever happened to…”
Jim Furyk: After finishing P2 last week, Furyk crept into contention this weekend with pair of 70’s on the weekend to finish T11. Another solid week finishing T15 in GIR and 10th in strokes gained-putting shows that last week wasn’t just a blip on the radar.
Jason Dufner: Nine under after Friday’s round saw Dufner in a familiar position in 2012 as he was near the top of the leader board. He’s began rounds 64, 66, 66, 66 in four of his last five times out. He only has three rounds in the 60’s in the other 15 rounds he played in those tournaments. The good news is he’s finished those tournaments T8, T29, T10 and T15 this week. Still hasn’t put together four great rounds but no doubt is getting close.
Justin Rose: Rose continued his steady play this week with T15 but he, like Dufner, would like to have a few back on the weekend. Rose carded 74-73 after a pair of 69’s to open the tournament as his putter let him down. He finished 61st in strokes-gained putting after being T5 GIR.
Nick Watney: After finishing 69-67at WGC-CC, I thought Watney would catch fire and begin to rock in 2012. He fired an opening round 69 at TC but faded to T51. He fired an opening round 68 this week yet backed it with 73, 79, 74. He was 65th in strokes gained-putting and T56 GIR. Now I remember why I didn’t rate him this week. He has too much talent to have his best full-field stroke-play finish to be T34. That doesn’t mean I have to pick him every week either.