Back To Where He Once Belonged


As familiar as a Beatles lyric, Tiger Woods holds Bay Hill lead

There's no guarantee that Tiger Woods will win today in the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard. But if you're so inclined, that's the way to bet.

After a tenacious six-under-par 66 Saturday, Woods leads by two strokes with 18 holes remaining on the Championship Course, and if that sounds familiar, well, it should. In six of his seven professional victories here at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge, Woods held at least a share of the top after 54 holes. His only comeback victory came when he erased a five-stroke deficit to Sean O'Hair in 2009 with a closing 67.

An unparalleled closer, Woods, winner of 76 PGA TOUR titles, has converted 51 of 55 third-round leads into victory. That includes last year's five-shot win over Graham McDowell when Woods led by one with an identical 11-under 205 total.

"They're all different," Woods, 37, said of his many Bay Hill triumphs. "Just because I've won here doesn't ensure that I'm going to win the tournament. The conditions are different, the game might be different, but the objective is still to put myself in position to win the golf tournament and somehow get it done on Sunday. Over the course of my career, I've done a pretty decent job of that."

Should he win today, Woods will tie Sam Snead with the most wins in a single PGA TOUR event. He also would return to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

"It sort of was one of my goals to get back to that position," he said.

The nearest pursuers, at nine-under 207, are Rickie Fowler, John Huh and second-round co-leader Justin Rose. Fowler fired a second straight 67 to join Woods in the final pairing, while Huh had 71 and Rose, who at one point led Woods by six shots, bogeyed three of his final six holes for a 72.

Rose began the day tied with Bill Haas, who fell back to a tie for fifth place after a 73, but the Englishman surged out of the gate with two birdies and an eagle in the first four holes to jump four clear of the field. But he couldn't sustain the momentum.

"Yeah, obviously a great start, really," said Rose, a Lake Nona resident and four- time TOUR winner. "It was quite funny, actually, the energy disappeared big time. My legs went on me almost out there. I don't know if it was fatigue or didn't eat right or something, but I was struggling. I made some loose swings coming down the stretch and really trying to hang on to that."

Huh, who like Fowler has one TOUR win, was looking forward to trying to catch a player who isn't often caught. "I really like where I'm at," Huh said. "It's easier for me to chase him. I think it's easier for me mentally, so I'm going to go have fun out there and play my game."

Three strokes behind Woods are five players: Haas, Jimmy Walker, Ken Duke, Thorbjorn Olesen and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castrano. Keegan Bradley, who also had 66, was among a group at 209, four back.

Woods didn't have the tidiest of rounds Saturday amid light breezes, but as he often does, he cleaned up well and took advantage of his opportunities. Especially important was the birdie-eagle run at the 15th and 16th set up by a pair of lovely six irons. He converted at No. 15 from 17 feet and at No. 16 from 20 feet to tie Rose for the lead.

Being out front has rarely fazed him.

"I'm excited about [today]," said Woods, whose final-round scoring average at Bay Hill is a strong 70.73. "I enjoy it. That's why we play is to be in this position. It's why I've spent all that time practicing and training is to be in this position and have a chance."

It's a very good chance, as history has shown.