Rollicking Good Time


ORLANDO, Fla. ' Tiger Woods made him laugh.
So did Padraig Harrington.
For a guy sandwiched between a pair of multiple major championship winners, Mark Wilson had a rollicking good time as the player who seemed out of place in the marquee pairing Thursday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Tiger Woods
Tiger takes a drop during his up-and-down day at Bay Hill. (Getty Images)
Wilson didnt just enjoy the fact that his 3-under-par 67 was the best round of the threesome. Woods shot 68 and Harrington 70.
Wilson enjoyed the circus that came with playing beside an icon who has won 14 majors (Woods) and a rising star who has won three of the last six majors (Harrington).
Woods, Harrington and Phil Mickelson are favorites to win the Masters in two weeks.
Early in Thursdays round, Harrington shared with Wilson how crazy life has become as winner of the last two majors. In Wednesdays pro-am, Harrington told Wilson that he noticed a man step out of a cart and begin to videotape him. Harrington also noticed an elderly woman sitting in the cart.
She was about 90 years old, Wilson said. All of a sudden, the cart started to move with the woman in it, and the man is not in it. Hes focused on videotaping, and she rolled right down the hill about 50 yards and he had no idea it happened. She was gone, but she was safe.
Wilson was prepared for a raucous first round. He first experienced Tigermania in 1992, when he lost to Woods in the finals of the U.S. Junior, the second of Woods three U.S. Junior titles.
Woods set the tone early Thursday at Bay Hill.
The electricity and the energy on that first tee is something else with him, all the people cheering, said Wilson, who won the Mayakoba Golf Classic a month ago. I definitely was a little nervous.
After two mediocre shots to begin his round, Woods found himself in a difficult spot short of the first green and faced with a challenging up and down for par.
The wind is blowing pretty good, and hes got that 35-yard pitch out of the first cut, Wilson said. Im looking at it going, `He could start out with a double bogey here. Its an easy shot to hit short.
Woods holed it for birdie and the gallery erupted.
Thats where Wilson heard what would become the days theme.
Tigers back!
The words became a rally cry on the back nine, where Woods mounted a run of four consecutive birdies beginning at the 11th hole.
The front nine wasnt so much fun for Woods, who was making his third PGA Tour start after missing eight months recuperating from reconstructive left knee surgery.
At No. 6, Woods pulled his tee shot left in the water.
The 321-yard walk to where his re-teed drive landed wasnt long enough to allow all the steam to dissipate off his head. He slammed the shaft of his driver into his bag, muttering and cursing to himself as he circled his ball in the rough. He made double bogey there.
At the eighth tee, he blocked his tee shot right behind a tree but saved par anyway.
At No. 12, he tossed his driver in disgust after pushing another tee shot right into trouble, but he scrambled to make birdie at the par 5.
At the 17th, he looked like as if he were going to walk off the course after pulling his tee shot in the rough.
Woods showed more frustration Thursday than he did in his first two starts combined at the Accenture Match Play Championship and the CA Championship.
The first two tournaments, I didnt have (anger) because I was hitting it so well, Woods said. Today, I was not hitting it well, and I had to scramble and grind it out and manage to score.
Woods hit just two of his first seven fairways and just three of his first nine greens in regulation, but he was sharper on the back nine, hitting four fairways and six greens. The best news of the day was how well his putter behaved. He had eight consecutive one putts in the round and took just 24 on the day.
The other good news for Woods fans is that his rebuilt knee continued to feel good.
Its nice to drive into the left leg for the first time, Woods said. Its been a long time since Ive been able to drive into the left leg and have it stable.
Harrington needed an impressive par at the 18th to finish at even par for the round.
After watching his last approach shot hit the bank short of the green and bounce back into the water, he dropped on the fringe of the green and made a 16-foot putt.
I see the points that still need to be made, but Im happy to be going in the right direction, Harrington said.
The same could be said of Woods and Wilson.

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