March 19, 2018

Woods Finishes Tied for 5th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational

ORLANDO, Fla. – Five starts into his 2018 PGA Tour season, Tiger Woods has contended twice down the stretch in the final round. He’s still chasing his 80th career victory, but what seemed improbable a year ago is now realistic.

For the second straight week, Woods gave himself a chance on the back nine Sunday. Starting the last round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational five shots off the pace, he pulled within one of co-leaders Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson with a 13-foot birdie putt at par-4 13th, his third in four holes.

Woods’ massive gallery at sun-scorched Bay Hill Club & Lodge went bonkers. So did social media.

But it wasn’t to be. Playing an hour ahead of the leaders, Woods knew he needed additional birdies and couldn’t sustain his Arnie-like charge. Poor tee shots at 16 and 17 resulted in bogeys, but Woods showed why he’s an eight-time Bay Hill winner and 14-time major champion by burying a 12-foot par-saving putt at 18.

Woods closed with a 3-under-par 69 and tied for fifth at 10-under 278, eight strokes behind McIlroy, who fired a bogey-free 64. After tying for second last week at the Valspar Championship and placing 12th at the Honda Classic, Woods has collected three consecutive top 12 finishes for the first time since 2008.

This, after undergoing four back surgeries since the spring of 2014, the most recent a spinal fusion procedure last April.

“If you would have asked me at the beginning of the year if I would have had a chance to win two golf tournaments, I would have taken that in heartbeat,” said the 42-year-old Woods. “Everything was an unknown. I’m extremely pleased.”

For the second day in a row, Woods carded six birdies. He has now posted par or better in 10 straight starts and broken 70 in five of his last seven.

Woods being Woods, he wasn’t pleased about his finish Sunday. At the par-5 16th, he couldn’t decide whether to launch a driver over the dogleg, ease off with a soft cut, or crush a 3-wood. Woods chose the first option and pulled it out of bounds.

“I didn’t commit to it,” said Woods, who birdied the hole the previous three rounds. “I bailed out and hit a bad shot. That’s on me.”

Even if he had reeled off three closing birdies, it wouldn’t have been good enough.

“I just knew I needed to keep making birdies,” Woods said. “Those guys had so many holes behind me. When I got to 16, I figured I had to play the last three holes 3-under to have a chance.”

Paired with Bud Cauley, Woods parred the first two holes, then reached the par-5 fourth in two and two-putted for his first birdie. He almost another at the short par-4 fifth.

After launching a drive just left of the green into thick rough, he couldn’t aim at the flag with his testy uphill second shot due a fronting bunker. Woods gouged the ball into the slope and would have found the green, but the ball hit a sprinkler head and came up short. He putted from there and had plenty of pace, the ball striking the pin dead-center, but caromed back half an inch and hung on the lip.

Woods could only smile.

At the par-5 sixth, he took an aggressive line over the water on the dogleg left and drilled his drive 317 yards. Woods unleashed a majestic high-cut from 227 yards with a 6-iron that dropped softly, 13 feet from the hole. His eagle putt looked true and caught the right edge of the cup, but the ball refused to fall.

After ripping an iron down the fairway at the 456-yard par-4 eighth, Woods flagged an iron from 173 yards within six feet of the hole and nailed the birdie putt. However, he was unable to recover from a poor drive at the par-4 ninth, one of the few times all week his short game let him down, and he turned in 2-under 34.

As has been the case in his last three events, Woods rebounded quickly. He nearly holed his approach shot at the par-4 10th and drained an eight-foot birdie putt. Woods made another at the par-5 12th, splashing a long shot from the back bunker four feet from the cup.

“I felt pretty good out there,” said Woods. “I hit the ball better than last week.”

Once again, his short game was stellar. Woods converted 19 of 27 save opportunities. He made every putt inside nine feet, finished second for the week in strokes gained around the green, and tied for 11th in strokes gained putting.

The driver is still a work in progress. Although he averaged 306.7 yards, he hit 34 of 56 fairways. Woods was 11-under on the par-5s.

After only 18 rounds this year, Woods is projected to jump to 105th in the world rankings. He has also moved up to 35th in the Official World Golf Ranking FedEx Cup standing. Neither are small accomplishments and will improve his qualification status for World Golf Championships events.

Woods now turns his focus to the Masters in two weeks at Augusta National Golf Club. A four-time champion, he has been unable to compete because of injuries since 2015, when he tied for 17th. His last green jacket came in 2005.

“I’m excited to play again,” Woods said. “I’ll start making some changes to get ready.”

Woods will tweak his equipment and swing. He’s also planning a pre-tournament visit to reacquaint himself with the course.

“If I can play with no pain and I can feel like I can make golf swings, I’ll figure it out,” said Woods. “I’m starting to piece it together tournament by tournament, and each tournament’s gotten a little crisper and a little better.”