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Tiger eyes No. 8 at Bay Hill

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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.

Arnold Palmer Invitational Bay Hill TheGreekGrind Pappas 2013

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.”

Arnold Palmer Invitational Brandt Snedeker TheGreekGrind Pappas 2013 1

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.

Arnold Palmer Invitational Graeme McDowell TheGreekGrind Pappas 2013 1

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.

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Pete is a journalist, commentator, and interviewer covering the PGA Tour, new equipment releases, and the latest golf fashions. Pete's also a radio and television personality who's appeared multiple times on ESPN radio, and Fox Sports All Bets Are Off. And when he's not running down a story, he's at the range working on his game. Above all else, Pete's the proud son of a courageous mom who battled pancreatic cancer much longer than anyone expected. You can follow Pete on twitter @PGAPappas

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Chris

    Mar 23, 2013 at 4:11 pm

    Tiger will always be known for being a slime ball human being. Nothing he dows will rise above the pitiful lows he brought upon himself. Win or not he is a loser.

  2. TWShoot67

    Mar 21, 2013 at 9:52 pm

    No doubt Tiger is a horses for courses type of player. But then again all the greats were as well. I just have to laugh @ GC analyst Brandel Chamblee. Once again when someone happens to have a single round better then Tiger, it’s a TIGER beating. You look at any contemporary players record an it’s a joke. When all these guys careers are over and 25,30, 50 years from now Justin Rose’s name will never be mentioned as one of the greats who played the game. Tiger’s name will be mentioned. People still don’t realize that these types of players ( Tiger,Jack, Ben,Byron, Sammy) only come around once in a great while. also with all that went on in Tiger’s life with injuries (not to mention personal). The only guy to come back after being so low would be in my opinion Ben Hogan. I just hope Tiger has one of his Tiger’esque years and then #1 in the world will just fall into place. I love seeing Tiger be pushed, it just shows how great he truly is!

  3. Dozer

    Mar 21, 2013 at 5:01 pm

    Saw this on CBS Sports Eye On Golf. Glad I clicked on the link. Great intro… Sam Snead. Takes me back to playing golf with my Grandpa.

  4. Troy Vayanos

    Mar 21, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    Tiger is a real ‘horses for courses’ golfer. When he wins and plays well at a golf course he’s every chance of winning there again.

    I have no doubt he’ll be in contention at some stage on Sunday.

    • Pete Pappas

      Mar 21, 2013 at 5:14 pm

      And he’s notched seven wins at three other venues as well Troy – WGC-Bridgestone, WGC-Cadillac, and Farmers. “Horses for courses” and then some – Tiger’s the “Secretariat” of the Tour.

  5. Tonsofsteel

    Mar 20, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    It’s gotta be Lindsay….

  6. RLL

    Mar 20, 2013 at 10:31 am

    Good to see you back, Pete. Another nice article, and as always, you go at things with a unique perspective — in this case, talking about Sam Snead, who I’m amazed is sometimes even unknown to younger golfers and for some reason is not talked about as much as the others who are considered “maybe the greatest ever.” (He does still hold the record for the most victories ever on tour.) I got to see his gorgeous swing in person as a kid, and I’ve never forgotten it. No one — with the possible exception of Rory today when he’s on — has ever come close to his moves. I hope when Tiger passes him in victories that Slammin’ Sammy he gets more of his due for what he accomplished in golf.

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