March 15, 2018

Woods Is Off To A Strong Start At The Arnold Palmer Invitational

ORLANDO, Fla. – The comeback continues.

Making just his fifth start of the 2018 PGA Tour season, Tiger Woods channeled thoughts of the late tournament host and past success at Bay Hill Lodge & Resort to carve out a 4-under-par 68 on Thursday in the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Woods and Mr. Palmer developed a strong friendship through the years, and he has played Bay Hill likes he owns it. Woods has produced eight victories in the event.

Unable to compete here since 2013 due to injuries, Woods fashioned six birdies and overcame a double-bogey to earn a tie for seventh in cool, tough conditions, four strokes behind pacesetter Henrik Stenson (64).

Forty-seven players broke par.

“I feel way more comfortable in a tournament setting,” said Woods, coming off a tie for second last week at the Valspar Championship. “I think it’s just playing tournament golf. I’ve been away from it for so long that when I first came back it was just a matter of getting my feel for tournament golf again. I think I have.”

An early back nine starter with Jason Day and Hideki Matsuyama, Woods parred 10 and 11, then drilled a 10-foot birdie putt at the par-5 12th. At the par-4 13th, his approach shot caught the fringe, saving him from a fronting pond, and he took full advantage, draining a 17-foot birdie putt to tie for the lead.

“Just a great break,” he said.

Following a pair of pars, Woods assumed sole possession of first place by reaching the par-5 16th green in two and two-putted for his third birdie from 42 feet. He closed the side with pars to turn in 3-under 33.

After stout par saves at 1 and 2, Woods blocked a 3-wood way right at the par-4 third. This time, he was unlucky when his ball settled in the netting of a temporary fence and he was deemed out of bounds. Woods didn’t find out until he reached his ball, then had to walk back to the tee and hit a second drive.

“I’m out by probably 3, 4 or five inches,” Woods said.

His second drive also sailed right, but he did well to find the green with a high cut and escaped with a double-bogey, two-putting from 26 feet.

That snapped a streak of 25 consecutive holes without a bogey, dating back to the Valspar Championship.

Woods recovered quickly, carding birdies on three of the next four holes. He saved his best for last, rolling in a 71-footer from the back fringe at the par-3 17th hole, drawing loud roars from the massive gallery.

Woods confessed he was just trying to lag for a stress-free par.

“As my dad always told me, just putt to the picture,” he said. “And I was asking for it to bite as it came over that knob, it was a little too hot and it had to crash in the hole.”

Woods made a nice save at the par-4 ninth, where he knocked his second shot from 180 yards into a right greenside bunker and blasted 11 feet from the hole. He poured the right-to-left, 11-foot putt into the center of the cup.

“I don’t like making bogeys, period,” said Woods. “That was a nice save.”

He wound up hitting eight of 14 fairways and 11 of 18 greens. Once again, his short game was spectacular, Woods making several clutch up and downs, and finishing with 25 putts.

It marked his seventh-straight round of par or better. In 15 rounds on the Florida swing, Woods is a combined 13-under.

“Everything can be shored up a little bit tighter, a little bit better,” he said.

After struggling on the par-5s in previous starts, he devoured them Thursday, making birdies on all four.

In his post-round session with the media, Woods pointed out there has been a drastic change in the questions being asked compared with two months ago when he returned to competition.

“The narrative has completely flipped,” said Woods. “I just wanted to remind you guys that it wasn’t that long ago that you were asking a different set of questions and that you need to enjoy it. I enjoy just playing again after what I’ve been through. Playing feels good.”

On Friday, Woods goes off the first tee at 1:08 p.m. ET with Day and Matsuyama.