Tiger Woods prevails at Bay Hill to return to No. 1

ORLANDO, Fla. — The moment was vintage Tiger Woods, and so was his reaction.

Seconds after Rickie Fowler made a 40-foot birdie putt on the 12th hole to pull within two shots of the lead, Woods posed over his 25-foot birdie putt until he swept the putter upward in his left hand and marched toward the cup as it dropped for a birdie.

Fowler, standing on the edge of the green, turned with a slight smile as if to say, “What else can I do?”

Woods won the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Monday and returned to No. 1 in the world for the first time since October 2010, the longest spell of his career. After all that time, after so much turmoil with his personal life, Woods looks as good as ever.

Maybe better.

“It’s a byproduct of hard work, patience and getting back to winning golf tournaments,” he said.

He essentially wrapped up his eighth title at Bay Hill with an 8-iron out of a fairway bunker on the par-5 16th that easily cleared the water and landed safely on the green for a two-putt birdie.

Just like his other two wins this year, Woods never let anyone get closer than two shots in the final round. With a conservative bogey he could afford on the final hole, he closed with a 2-under 70 for a two-shot win over Justin Rose.

Woods walked off the 18th green waving his putter over his head to acknowledge the fans who have seen this act before. His eighth win in the Arnold Palmer Invitational tied a PGA Tour record that had not been touched in 48 years.

“If I get healthy, I know I can play this game at a high level,” Woods said.

A year ago, he came to Bay Hill without having won in more than 2½ years. He left this year having won six times in his past 20 starts on the PGA Tour. Next up is the Masters, where he will try to end his five-year drought in majors.

“I’m really excited about the rest of this year,” he said.

Woods fell as low as No. 58 in the world as he coped with the collapse of his marriage, a loss of sponsors and injuries to his left leg. One week after he announced he was dating Olympic ski champion Lindsey Vonn, he returned to the top of golf. Asked whether there was any correlation to him winning right after going public with his relationship, Woods smiled and said, “You’re reading way too much into this.”

Like so many other victories, this one was never really close. Fowler pulled within two shots with a 25-foot birdie putt on the 14th hole, but after he and Woods made bogey on the 15th, Fowler went at the flag on the par-5 16th and came up a few yards short and into the water. Fowler put another ball into the water and made triple bogey.

Woods played it safe on the 18th and nearly holed a 75-foot par putt that even drew a big smile from the tournament host.

Woods tied the tour record of eight wins in a single tournament; Sam Snead won the Greater Greensboro Open eight times from 1938-65 at two courses. Woods tied his record for most wins at a single golf course, having also won eight times at Torrey Pines, including a U.S. Open.

“I don’t really see anybody touching it for a long time,” Palmer said while Woods made his way up the 18th fairway. “I had the opportunity to win a tournament five times, and I knew how difficult that was.”