Woods wins Bay Hill, ascends to No. 1 world ranking

By Ryan LavnerMarch 25, 2013, 8:01 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Even after a 20-hour weather delay, even after a brief surge by Rickie Fowler, the outcome here at Bay Hill seemed predetermined, not least because Tiger Woods is the best closer in sports not wearing pinstripes.

No, it’s because golf’s new king looks an awful lot like the old one – pumping his fist and twirling his irons and holing clutch putts. Everything you remember about Red Shirt.

“It feels really good,” Woods said, reclining in a chair in the winner’s news conference, wearing the customary blue blazer. More than 30 text messages had arrived on his phone within minutes of his two-stroke victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He tapped out thank-you notes as fast as his fingers allowed.


Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, videos and photos


Woods appears happy again. Genuinely happy. Perhaps that’s because of his newly confirmed relationship, to skier Lindsey Vonn, or maybe his return to championship form. It was natural to wonder if Tiger could ever truly be happy again without both.

By capturing his third title of the season Monday (and second in his last two starts), Woods has won six of his last 20 PGA Tour starts. Six of his last 20 – that’s an absurd winning percentage of 30 percent, slightly above his career average of 27 percent.

“I feel like this is the Tiger I grew up watching,” Keegan Bradley said.

More absurdity: Woods has captured 41 PGA Tour titles on seven courses, Bay Hill included. Forty-one wins – or, in other words, as many victories as Phil Mickelson has enjoyed during his Hall of Fame career, and seven more than Vijay Singh, and 19 more than Ernie Els.

This will mark Woods’ 624th week at world No. 1 – or 12 years, more than half of Rory McIlroy’s lifetime.

“I don’t think that’s his ultimate goal,” said his caddie, Joe LaCava, of reaching world No. 1, “but it’s certainly a nice bonus.”

Technically, Woods’ reign atop the world order may last all of a week, even if it feels like we experienced a seismic shift in the golf landscape Monday. Next week, McIlroy could regain the No. 1 spot in the world with a victory in Houston, the continuation of a generational tug-of-war that shapes the sport. But this has the distinct feel of a vintage Tiger year. Your move, kid.

That mentality alone drives home the fact that we’re light years from Oct. 30, 2010, when Woods last held the No. 1 ranking. At the time he was less than a year removed from the tabloid-fueled scandal that ruined his family life, shattered his public image and precipitated a brief downturn in his game.

He suffered a stunning loss to Graeme McDowell at his own World Challenge. A year later, he injured his Achilles’ tendon at the Masters, forcing him to withdraw from The Players, skip the U.S. Open and British Open, and then bomb out at the PGA. In November 2011, he was ranked 58th in the world.

It was a “perfect storm,” Woods said. He was making a swing change, and he was hurt, and he couldn’t devote any time to practice the new motion. Were there any doubts about whether he would ever win again, or reach world No. 1? Please. When he’s healthy, and when he’s making putts, he wins.

“If I get healthy, I know I can play this game at a high level,” he said. “Once I got there, then my game turned.”

Last year was decidedly more Tiger-like, and that resurgence began here, at Arnie’s place, where Woods won a full-field PGA Tour event for the first time in 923 days (this was his eighth victory at Bay Hill, matching a Tour record for most wins in an event). He would win two more times, at Memorial and Congressional, but was strangely absent in the major championships, when he didn’t break par in eight weekend rounds. They were bizarre disappearing acts.

“Maybe my game wasn’t quite consistent enough to be there at that point,” he said.

Now, though, his mind is no longer clouded with swing thoughts. He’s more confident, the motion more ingrained. On the range Monday morning, in a brisk and steady crosswind, Woods worked through each club in the bag, wedge through driver, swinging each in perfect balance and rhythm. His swing coach, Sean Foley, stood some 50 yards away and watched Hunter Mahan, another of his pupils. For the last half hour of his warm-up, Woods’ only interaction with Foley was a fist bump on the putting green before heading to the third tee for the restart. He’s self-sufficient.

For Woods, the resumption of the final round produced little stress, at least until he needed to hole a 7-foot par putt on 11. A hole later, and after watching Rickie Fowler drain a 37-footer to pull within two shots of the lead, Woods buried a 27-footer, raising his putter skyward as he walked toward the cup.

“That’s just the competitor he is,” Fowler would say afterward. “He just finds a way to make a putt and keep things going.”

The biggest swing of the day came on the 16th hole. Two behind as he played his second shot into the par 5, Fowler rinsed his approach from 188 yards – and eventually carded a triple-bogey 8 – setting the stage for a Woods exclamation point.

He didn’t disappoint, hitting a drawing 8-iron from a perfect lie in a fairway bunker to 35 feet to set up an easy birdie and open a three-shot cushion. After a two-putt par on 17 and conservative bogey on the 72nd hole, he finished at 13-under 275, two shots clear of Justin Rose (70).

“It was going to happen,” Bubba Watson said of Woods’ reascension to the No. 1 spot. “He had injuries. He’s had a lot of things going on in his life. But he’s the greatest golfer ever.”

But there was work to be done, of course, even after three victories last season. In the offseason Woods knew he needed to sharpen his scoring clubs – last year, he was 102nd or worse in greens in regulation from 75-100 yards, 100-125 yards and 125-150 yards. This year, he ranks no worse than 69th in those categories.

Woods had four eagles all of last year. This week alone, he made three.

And after a tip from Steve Stricker at Doral, Woods’ putter has also learned to cooperate in crunch time. He led the field in strokes gained-putting. Prior to Monday’s restart, he was 11 of 12 on attempts from 10 to 20 feet. Tweeted Paul Azinger, “Most pros won’t make 10 putts that long in a month.”

“He’s playing well,” Fowler said. “You know when another guy is playing well and he’s on top of his game, he’s got a little something.”

“He’s won three of his four stroke-play events here in the U.S.,” LaCava said. “If you’re paying attention, you probably have to look over your shoulder (now) a little bit, right?”

Inevitably, the conversation now shifts to the majors, as it always does with Woods. Perhaps it’s just a statistical anomaly, but in the three years that he has won three PGA Tour events before the Masters – in 2000, ’03 and ’08 – he has not gone on to wear the green jacket. In two of those three years, however, he went on to win majors. Talent triumphed.

Woods hasn’t won a major since 2008, the Masters since ’05. Until he wins major No. 15, until he resumes his ascent up Mount Nicklaus, questions will remain. That’s the gift and the curse of an in-form Tiger.

When asked the last time he felt this good heading into Augusta, Woods said flatly, “It’s been a few years.”

Indeed, everything about his game is starting to look like old times.

Day, Spieth chasing Davis after Day 1 of Aussie Open

By Jason CrookNovember 23, 2017, 6:50 am

The PGA Tour is off this week but a couple of the circuit’s biggest stars – Jordan Spieth and Jason Day – are headlining the Emirates Australian Open, the first event in The Open Qualifying Series for the 2018 Open at Carnoustie. Here's how things look after the opening round, where Cameron Davis has opened up a two-shot lead:

Leaderboard: Cameron Davis (-8), Taylor MacDonald (-6), Nick Cullen (-5), Jason Day (-5), Brian Campbell (-4), Lucas Herbert (-4), Stephen Leaney (-4), Anthony Quayle (-4)

What it means: Jordan Spieth has won this event three of the last four years, including last year, but he got off to a rocky start on Thursday. Playing in the windy afternoon wave, the world No. 2 bogeyed his first two holes but rebounded with birdies on Nos. 4 and 5. It was more of the same the rest of the way as the 24-year-old carded three more bogeys and four birdies, getting into the clubhouse with a 1-under 70. While it certainly wasn't the start he was hoping for, Spieth didn't shoot himself out of the tournament with 54 holes left to play, he has plenty of time to claw his way up the leaderboard.

Round of the day: With Round 1 in the books, the solo leader, Davis, is the easy pick here. The 22-year-old Aussie who turned pro last year, came out of the gates on fire, birdieing six of his first seven holes, including four in a row on Nos. 4 through 7. He did drop a shot on the ninth hole to go out in 30 but rebounded with three more birdies on the back to card a 8-under 63. Davis, who was born in Sydney and played this year on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada. He will attempt to get his Web.com Tour card next month during qualifying in Arizona.

Best of the rest: Making his first start in his home country in four years, Day started on the 10th hole at The Australian Golf Club and made four birdies to one bogey on the back side before adding four more circles after making the turn. Unfortunately for the 30-year-old, he also added an ugly double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole and had to settle for a 5-under 66, good enough to sit T-3. Day, who has dropped to No. 12 in the world rankings, is looking for his first win on any tour since the 2016 Players Championship.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Can the upstart 22-year-old Davis hold off the star power chasing him or will he fold to the pressure of major champions in his rearview mirror? Day (afternoon) and Spieth (morning) are once again on opposite ends of the draw on Friday as they try to improve their position before the weekend.

Shot of the day: It’s tough to beat an ace in this category, and we had one of those on Thursday from Australian Brad Shilton. Shilton’s hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole came with a special prize, a $16k watch.

Quote of the day: “Just two bad holes. Pretty much just two bad swings for the day,” – Day, after his 66 on Thursday. 

Watch: Shilton wins $16k timepiece with hole-in-one

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 23, 2017, 2:50 am

Australian Brad Shilton made a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole during the first round of the Australian Open, and he was rewarded handsomely for his efforts - with a Tag Heuer watch worth $16k.

Day gets in early mix with 66 in return to Australia

By Associated PressNovember 23, 2017, 2:32 am

SYDNEY - Jason Day's first tournament round in Australia in four years was a 5-under 66 to put him among the leaders early Thursday at the Australian Open.

Day's round came unhinged late with a double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole, his second-last of the day. He hit his tee shot into the trees on the left, hit back out to the fairway, missed his approach to the green and then couldn't get up and down.

''That was brutal,'' Day said of the 481-yard hole that played into gusting winds.

But Day recovered quickly to birdie his last to sit three strokes behind fellow Australian and early leader Cameron Davis, who started on the first, had six front-nine birdies and shot 63 at The Australian Golf Club.

In between the two was Australian Taylor MacDonald, who shot 65.

''It was a pretty solid round, I didn't miss many fairways, I didn't miss many greens,'' Day said. ''I'd give myself a seven or eight out of 10.''

Defending champion Jordan Spieth, attempting to win the Australian Open for the third time in four years, was off to a poor start among the afternoon players, bogeying his first two holes.

The Sydney-born Davis played most of this season on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada and will attempt to secure his Web.com card in the final round of qualifying from Dec. 7-10 in Chandler, Arizona.

''Everything went to plan,'' Davis said. ''I got off to a great start. I was hitting my spots and was able to keep it together on the back nine.''

NOTES: Australian Brad Shilton had the first ace of the tournament, using a 5-iron for a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole, his second hole of the day. Australian veteran Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open winner, shot 69. He and Rod Pampling (68) played the first round with Day.

Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

"He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

"I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

"From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

"And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

"There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."