Tiger Woods hasn’t had many rounds under his belt this year after missing eight months because of reconstructive knee surgery, but he still knows how to manage his game at Bay Hill.
The defending champion and five-time winner of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard, Woods salvaged a one-over-par 71 Saturday on the windswept Champions Course and has a chance to win his sixth title at the Palmer’s prestigious event.
First, though, he has to figure out a way to catch Sean O’Hair. Woods, at two-under 208, is five strokes behind the native Texan with 18 holes remaining. The last time someone had a lead that large was Woods himself in 2003 – and he went on to win by 11 strokes.
“The golf course was playing so hard,” Woods said. “I had to be so patient with the round. No one is tearing this place apart. The wind is so blustery out there, it’s hard to get your distance correct, and then once you get on the green the wind is blowing the ball on the green so you’ve got to allow for wind on putts from five, six feet. It’s just a tough day.”
Woods made three birdies against four bogeys, but it was a bogey on the final hole of the day that was perhaps the most impressive. After hitting his second shot into the edge of the water hazard to the right of the 18th green, Woods found the putting surface with his fourth shot and drained a 25-foot putt.
Incidentally, it was a 25-foot putt on the same green that won him his fifth title last year.
“I thought I played well all day,” said Woods, who carded his first round over par this year. “Unfortunately I finished up at over par for the day, but I played better than that.”
Woods has shot par or better nine times in the final round at Bay Hill, with his 66 a year ago his best. His worst was 77 in 1998.
He wouldn’t predict what kind of score would be required to come out on top for his 66th PGA Tour title.
“We’ll see what happens. It may soften up, the wind may blow, it’s supposed to be a little bit cooler,” Woods said. “We’ll see what happens when we get out here, what kind of conditions we’re going to have, whether we’re able to shoot low scores or not or we’re going to have to play like we have been the last three days."