March 25, 2013

GOLF: Woods back on top

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

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WINNER: Tiger Woods watches his bunker shot at the 16th hole during the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Monday in Orlando, Fla.

AP photo

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 and returned to No. 1 in the world for the first time since October 2010, the longest spell of his career. After all that time, after so much turmoil with his personal life and his health, Woods looks as good as ever.

Maybe better.

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

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.

"I'm really excited about the rest of this year," Woods said.

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 moments after his win.

Asked if there was any correlation to his winning right after going public with his relationship, Woods smiled and said, "You're reading way too much into this."

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. Fowler put another ball into the water and made triple bogey.

"I was swinging it well. I made a few putts, and trying to put a little pressure on them, let them know I was there," Fowler said. "Just would like to have that 7-iron back on 16. Just kind of a touch heavy."

(Continued on page 2)

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