Yes, Tiger’s really back – and so is Paul Casey, whose spoiler effort at the Valspar Championship punctuated his own comeback quest.
If nothing else, Woods takes plenty of momentum to one of his favorite spots on tour. The Starter knows Arnie would give a thumbs-up. And while the LPGA finally hits U.S. shores, Americans have already been out front in 2018.
1. Tiger Woods comes up just shy of that comeback win. Though Woods struggled to find birdies on Sunday, that 44-foot bomb at No.17 offered a glimpse of the old Tiger magic. Alas, another long bid at No.18 to force a playoff died a bit too soon. All in all, a positive. And next week: Bay Hill.
2. Paul Casey joins the drought-busters instead. Though a Woods victory surely would have made a bigger splash, Casey’s triumph at Innsibrook is no less a feel-good story. It was his first win worldwide since 2014; his first on U.S. soil since 2009. Plus, he went and grabbed it with a 65.
3. One more turn-back-the-clock triumph: Vijay Singh. Like Steve Stricker last week, Singh went through the PGA Tour Champions to end his own dry spell. The Toshiba Classic was the Hall of Famer’s first individual win since his 2008 FedExCup title. (He did win the two-man Legends of Golf last year.)
AROUND THE TOURS
PGA: Arnold Palmer Invitational
Course: Bay Hill Club & Lodge
Where: Orlando, Fla.
Defending: Marc Leishman
LPGA: Bank of Hope Founders Cup
Course: Wildfire GC at Desert Ridge Resort & Spa
Defending: Anna Nordqvist
Don’t look now, but Tiger Woods has cracked the top 150 in the world rankings.
OK, that doesn’t exactly compare to all those years when he was entrenched at No.1, but it’s a significant jump when you remember where he was just three months ago. Sunday’s share of second at the Valspar Championship moved him to 149th, a rise of 239 slots from last week.
On a grander scale, Woods has vaulted a cool 1,050 slots from where he stood before teeing it up at December’s Hero World Challenge, ending a 10-month layoff as he recovered from spinal fusion surgery.
|389th||The Honda Classic||12||2/26/2018|
|539th||Farmers Ins Open||T23||1/29/2018|
|668th||Hero World Challenge||T9||12/4/2017|
Bay Hill Club & Lodge was a golfing outpost tucked away on Orlando’s western outskirts when Arnold Palmer first visited in 1962. It didn’t make much of an impression then, but that changed when he returned three years later for an exhibition with Jack Nicklaus and local pro Dave Ragan.
Upon returning to his winter base in South Florida, Palmer told his wife: “Babe, I just played the best golf course in Florida – and I want to own it.”
It wasn’t until 1969 before Palmer secured a lease to operate Bay Hill, and five years later he completed a purchase of the club from owners in Tennessee and Michigan. By then, the Palmers had made Orlando their winter home.
The PGA Tour didn’t arrive until 1979, when Palmer brought the old Florida Citrus Open across town from its home at Rio Pinar CC. Palmer didn’t miss a start for 26 years, last teeing it up at age 74, and an audience with “The King” was one of the most cherished parts of winning.
STAT OF THE WEEK
As the LPGA touches down on U.S. soil for the first time in 2018, U.S.-born players already have won three of the season’s first four stops.
That’s the best start by the American faction since 2007, when Paula Creamer, Stacy Prammanasudh and Meaghan Francella swept the first three.
You have to go back 2 ½ years, in fact, to find the last time U.S. players had three wins in any stretch of four tournaments. It was summer 2015 when Kris Tamulis (Alabama), Jessica Korda (Malaysia) and Lexi Thompson (South Korea) teamed up, sandwiched around Lydia Ko’s victory at the Evian Championship.
RED WHITE & BLUE
Pure Silk-Bahamas: Brittany Lincicome (USA)
ISPS Handa Australian: Jin Young Ko (Korea)
Honda LPGA Thailand: Jessica Korda (USA)
HSBC Women’s World: Michelle Wie (USA)
HOLE OF THE WEEK
No.18, Bay Hill Club & Lodge
Par 4, 458 yards
2017 average: 4.28 (toughest)
Boasting perhaps the most creative moniker on the PGA Tour, the “Devil’s Bathtub” was given long ago to the rock-lined pond that stands guard to Bay Hill’s hook-shaped 18th green. It rarely fails to deliver on drama – good and bad.
Tiger Woods secured three of his record-tying eight Bay Hill victories with birdies alongside the Bathtub – a 15-footer to beat Phil Mickelson in 2001, then almost identical putts in in 2008 (beating Bart Bryant) and ’09 (chasing down Sean O’Hair).
What usually doesn’t get shown are the mid-irons Woods struck to put himself in position for those birdies. Only 12 yards of putting surface are available as the green wraps around the back of the pond. The Sunday pin sits up front near the water, too.
Among the 18th’s Sunday victims over the years have been Vijay Singh (twice), Davis Love III (1989) and Kevin Chappell (2016). And Greg Norman, though his 1990 misfortune was not of his doing – Robert Gamez holed a miraculous 7-iron for the winning eagle.
2017 Arnold Palmer Invitational: no eagles, 48 birdies, 215 pars, 91 bogeys, 21 double bogeys, 7 higher
Sergio Garcia made it all the way through the Valspar Championship without The Call. The next we see him, though, he’ll be a new father.
The reigning Masters champion placed fourth at Innisbrook on Sunday, capped by a 6-under-par 65 that matched Paul Casey for the best of the day. He’ll step away now to prepare for the arrival of his daughter, who is due next Sunday.
“If everything goes well, I’ll be able to play Match Play,” Garcia said on his way out of Innisbrook. “Hopefully that’s the way it goes. … If not, I’ll be with my wife and my little girl.”
Garcia told reporters he and wife Angela have a name picked out for their new arrival, though they aren’t ready to tell the world yet. Barring any complications, they’d like to bring their bundle of joy down Magnolia Lane on a certain weekend in April.
One more Masters note: Garcia says the menu for the champions’ dinner is set, but he’s playing that one close to the vest too.
DID YOU KNOW?
Valspar Championship officials certainly are still tallying the exact numbers, but early estimates suggest Tiger Woods’ appearance – and being in contention – put an extra 10,000 spectators at Innisbrook each day.
Officials said 35 additional shuttle buses were brought in to handle the crowds, assigned mostly to two new parking lots.
A spectator bridge was built on the 12th fairway to alleviate a bottleneck, and the Copperhead ordered 90 more portable toilets. The media center, too, doubled its square footage.
“I said a couple times if I don’t win this thing I actually want Tiger to win it. I’m glad it’s this way.”
– Paul Casey
Credit: Getty Images