The third time was lucky for Tiger Woods in his comeback to golf after knee surgery as the world No. 1 claimed the title in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.
Woods rolled home a long birdie putt on the final hole in typical style to edge out long-time leader Sean O’Hair and successfully defend his title at the PGA Tour event. Woods had begun the final round with a five-shot lead to make up on his playing partner O’Hair, but a closing three-under 67 against the overnight leader’s 73 did the trick. Mediocre performances by his high standards in his two previous tournaments after a nine-month injury layoff following knee surgery had led some to doubt Woods would return to his very best, but the manner of his victory suggests otherwise. “It feels good,” he told the Press Association. “It feels good to be back in contention and feel the rush. It’s been a while.” Fellow American and former U.S. Masters champion Zach Johnson finished third, but effectively the title was a two-man race all day after a delayed start due to storms in the Florida area. Woods made an immediate move with birdies on the second and third, where O’Hair found a bunker and saw his lead whittled away to two shots. Tiger dropped a shot at the fourth, but a birdie on the seventh saw him back on track with O’Hair steadily losing shots to par. He still trailed by a shot at the 14th and was forced to make a superb downhill putt to salvage his par, but on the 15th he was level as he sunk long-range effort. The 14-time major winner pulled ahead for the first time at the 16th only to struggle on the next hole as O’Hair joined him on four-under-par. Playing partner Johnson still had a glimmer of hope at two-under, but Woods responded with a magnificent second and drained the winning putt. The victory will leave him heading for the US. Masters at Augusta next week in positive move as he bids to close on Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 wins in major championships. More importantly it sends a ominous message to his golfing rivals that Tiger is well and truly back.