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Tiger eyes No. 8 at Bay Hill
Throughout Tiger Woods’ career, his late father Earl got his attention on the golf course by calling him “Sam.”
“He rarely ever called me Tiger,” Woods said. “I would ask him, ‘Why don’t you ever call me Tiger?’ He’d say, “Well, you look more like a Sam.”
With a victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard this weekend, Woods won’t just look like a Sam; he would will join “Slammin’ Sammy” Snead in the record books as the only other golfer to win a tournament eight times.
Snead set the record at the Greater Greensboro Open, which he won in 1938, 1946, 1949, 1950, 1955, 1956, 1960 and 1965. Tiger’s seven career wins at Bay Hill (2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2008, 2009 and 2012) are highlighted by a compelling 3.86 stroke average margin of victory, and he’s a collective 108-under par in 15 professional starts at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Since firing an energized Bay Hill final-round 70 in difficult conditions last year, Tiger’s won four more times, including two wins in his last four events this season. And Woods’ incomparable 17th World Golf Championship title at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral two weeks ago showcased a predatory Tiger — not the injured Tiger, not the frustrated Tiger commonly on display during his 923 day winless drought.
Tiger is ranked first in scoring average, second in birdies average, and sixth in strokes-gained-putting through fourTour events in 2013. His ball striking has been pure, distance control dialed in, and maybe most importantly Tiger’s short game magic has returned. However, Woods better be firing on all cylinders if he plans on walking off No. 18 green Sunday evening to shake Arnold Palmer’s hand and receive his eighth plaid jacket.
Bay Hill is one of the premier tests on Tour. And its three closing holes give players nightmares. “Arnie’s Place” sets up more than 7,400 yards with thick Bermuda grass that punishes errant tee shots. Par-5 scoring and greens-in-regulation will be crucial for whoever wins — especially with the putting surfaces being so tough to hold.
Headliners in the field include nine of the top-15 players in the Official World Golf Rankings, seven of the top-10 in the current FedExCup Standings (as well as 24 of the top-30), and nine previous Arnold Palmer Invitational champions. Three reigning major champions are also teeing it up at Bay Hill, including Masters winner Bubba Watson, Open Championship winner Ernie Els and U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson.
And world No. 4 Justin Rose (who hasn’t finished outside the top-15 on the PGA or European Tour for seven months and running), No. 10 Phil Mickelson (with a win at the Phoenix Open earlier this season and two top-5 finishes in two of his last four events), and a hot Sergio Garcia are all looking for strong performances heading into Augusta.
Current FedExCup leader Brandt Snedeker returns to action for the first time since winning the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in February. He’s been sidelined five weeks with a rib muscle strain.
“I’m excited to be back out,” Snedeker said. “My golf game feels kinda where it was [Pebble Beach]. So I’m excited to see what this week holds.”
Snedeker has seven top-10 finishes in his last 11 events dating back to last year, including two wins and three runner-ups. However Snedeker finished 63rd here last year, and missed the cut in 2011.
Graeme McDowell was gracious in defeat at Bay Hill last year saying,
“It was great to have a front-row seat watching maybe the greatest of all time doing what he does best – winning golf tournaments.”
But don’t believe for a moment McDowell wasn’t bitterly disappointed fading to a second place finish. The fiery Irishman has earned his reputation as a big time player who shines brightest when the spotlight burns hottest — he didn’t’ finish worse than 12th place in any major last year.
And with three top-10 finishes in four events this season, McDowell is playing very well again this year. He’s fifth in scoring average, second in driving accuracy and second in scrambling. McDowell would relish another Sunday showdown with Woods at Bay Hill.
Still, Bay Hill remains Tiger’s domain. And a 77th Tour title for Woods this weekend would ascend him past current No. 1 Rory McIlroy to the crowning point in the world rankings — the first time Woods would sit on this throne since October 2010.