Golf: With renewed swagger, health, Tiger No. 1 again

2013-03-26T00:00:00Z Golf: With renewed swagger, health, Tiger No. 1 againThe Associated Press The Associated Press
March 26, 2013 12:00 am  • 

ORLANDO, Fla. - The moment was vintage Tiger Woods, and so was his reaction.

Seconds after Rickie Fowler made a 40-foot birdie putt on the 12th hole to pull within two shots of the lead, Woods posed over his 25-foot birdie putt until he swept the putter upward in his left hand and marched toward the cup as it dropped for a birdie.

Fowler, standing on the edge of the green, turned with a slight smile as if to say, "What else can I do?"

Woods won the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Monday with a 13-under 275 - his 77th victory on the PGA Tour, moving to within five of Sam Snead's record - and returned to No. 1 in the world for the first time since October 2010. After all that time, after so much turmoil with his personal life and health, Tiger looks as good as ever.

Maybe better.

"It's a byproduct of hard work, patience and getting back to winning golf tournaments," he said.

He essentially wrapped up his eighth title at Bay Hill with an 8-iron out of a fairway bunker on the par-5 16th that easily cleared the water and landed safely on the green for a two-putt birdie. Woods dangled his tongue out of his mouth as the ball was in the air, another sign of his swagger.

Just like his other two wins this year, Woods never let anyone get closer than two shots in the final round. With a conservative bogey he could afford on the final hole, he closed with a 2-under 70 for a two-shot win over Justin Rose, who finished alone in second.

Woods walked off the 18th green waving his putter over his head - truly a magic wand at Bay Hill - to acknowledge the fans who have seen this act before. His eighth win in the Arnold Palmer Invitational tied a PGA Tour record that had not been touched in 48 years.

This win had extra significance. He's back to No. 1.

"If I get healthy, I know I can play this game at a high level," Woods said. "I know I can be where I'm contending in every event, contending in major championships and being consistent day in and day out - if I got healthy. That was the first step in the process. Once I got there, then my game turned."

A year ago, he came to Bay Hill without having won in more than 2 1/2 years. He left this year having won six times in his last 20 starts on the PGA Tour.

Next up is the Masters, where Woods will try to end his five-year drought in the majors.

Woods fell as low as No. 58 in the world as he coped with the collapse of his marriage, a loss of sponsors and injuries to his left leg. One week after he announced he was dating Olympic ski champion Lindsey Vonn, Woods returned to the top of golf.

"Number 1 !!!!!!!!!!!!!" Vonn tweeted after his win.

Like so many other victories, this one was never really close. Fowler pulled to within two shots with a 25-foot birdie putt on the 14th hole, but after he and Woods made bogey on the 15th, Fowler went at the flag on the par-5 16th and came up a few yards short and into the water. He put another ball into the water and made triple bogey.

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