ORLANDO, Fla. – Charlie Wi felt a lot better walking off the golf course compared with his last round.
So did Tiger Woods.
Coming off a final round at Innisbrook in which he made a 13 on one hole, Wi hit an 8-iron over the water to 6 feet for birdie on the 18th for a 6-under 66, giving him a share of the lead with Jason Dufner in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
It’s the fourth time Dufner has been atop the leaderboard after a round during the Florida swing – except that none of those rounds have been on Sunday.
The last time Woods was seen on the PGA Tour, he was being driven away in a golf cart after withdrawing in the middle of the final round at Doral with soreness and swelling in his left Achilles tendon.
Woods, a six-time champion at Bay Hill, shot a 69 without breaking a sweat, much less breaking any body parts. There was nothing particularly special about this round, except for a 30-foot birdie putt that swirled around the cup at the 15th, and a couple of three-putt bogeys that kept his score from being lower.
“I didn’t really do anything great today,” said Woods, who had only two approach shots inside 15 feet on the par 3s and par 4s. “I was just solid all day. I drove the ball well, hit my irons decent and putted all right. It’s just one of those days where not a lot was going on.”
Maybe not in his group.
Behind him, though, it was a different story.
Phil Mickelson was all over the place, going from a bunker to a magnolia tree on his way to an unlikely par; hitting a tee shot out of bounds for double bogey; hitting into the water for another double bogey; and somehow escaping with a 73.
In the group behind Mickelson, Anthony Kim made only two pars on the back nine for a 32 that shot him up the leaderboard. Kim followed two birdies with two bogeys, made two more birdies and then hit 5-iron on the 17th hole for an ace. He was leading until a pair of bogeys on the back nine gave him a 69, a good start for a guy who has been in the tank most of the year.
“I’ve been running my head into a brick wall,” Kim said. “So I moved away from the brick wall, and now I can swing and make some birdies out here.”
Nick Watney was on the opposite side of the course, and not as many people saw his 68. He was pleased to see some putts go in, which has contributed to his slow start this year.
“I putted really well and it’s nice to do that because that’s been my Achilles this year,” Watney said.
Woods’ Achilles also used to be his putting, until it actually became his Achilles tendon.
This is Woods’ last tournament before the Masters, where he has not won since 2005. It’s part of eight straight days of golf, which began Sunday with a scouting trip to Augusta National, and there has been concern that his Achilles tendon might flare up again. Woods said he has no way of knowing if it will tighten up on him as it did at Doral, though he said he has dealt with tightness before and it didn’t linger.
Whatever the case, he wasn’t worried about it on a sunny Thursday morning in his former town.
“I’m just out there playing,” he said. “I’m feeling good. I’ve been getting treatment. Everything’s good. No swelling. If I can just keep it that way, everything will be great.”
Justin Rose and Sean O’Hair also were at 69, while Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III and Bud Cauley were in the group at 68. Ernie Els, who might need to win to get into the Masters, played with Woods and shot 71.
Wi has been making news for all the wrong reasons this year. He had a three-shot lead going into the final round at Pebble Beach and four-putted the opening hole for double bogey, eventually finishing second.
Last week at the Transitions Championship was more comedy than tragedy. He already was toward the bottom of the leaderboard in the final round when he tried to hit a shot through a gap in the trees, and three times saw his ball hit the tree and carom out of bounds onto the practice range. He wound up with a 13 and shot 78, and didn’t give it much thought except when asked about it.
“That was just a blip on the radar screen,” Wi said. “Actually, I figured I should have gone for some tour record so at least I could be remembered.”
He doesn’t have many good memories of Bay Hill – he withdrew one year, missed the cut two other times and tied for 24th last year, with a 66 in the third round. So at least he’s making progress.
Kim started the year at No. 78 in the world and wanted to play his way into the top 50 so he could qualify for the Masters. Instead, he has gone the other way in a hurry – four missed cuts, a disqualification, and a tie for 42nd at the Honda Classic. He has fallen to No. 120 in the world, surprising for a guy considered one of the rising Americans just four years ago at the Ryder Cup.
“I’m doing all the right things to get me closer to playing,” Kim said. “Getting the ball in the hole is not an issue. Getting the ball off the tee the last two years has been a struggle. I know I can get the ball in the hole. I just have to get the ball in the fairway.”