Tiger Woods is back atop golf’s world rankings after a 2 1/2-year absence.
Woods regained the No. 1 spot yesterday with a record-tying eighth win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, his final event before the Masters Tournament.
Woods’s third title this season and the sixth in his past 20 U.S. PGA Tour events make him the 3-1 favorite to end a five- year major championship drought at the Masters, which is scheduled for April 11-14 in Augusta, Georgia. Woods said it’s “been a few years” since he’s felt so confident about the state of his game heading to Augusta National Golf Club.
“Game-wise, I have a couple weeks off, that’s going to be nice,” Woods, 37, said yesterday at a news conference. “I’ll shut it down for a few days and then start gearing up and working on the shots I need for Augusta.”
Woods finished two strokes better than Justin Rose at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge after posting a final-round 2-under-par 70 for a four-round total of 13-under 275.
“I don’t really see anybody touching that for a long time,” Palmer, the Bay Hill tournament’s host and winner of seven majors, said in a televised interview on the Golf Channel.
“This event means so much to me over the years,” Woods said. “My first house I ever owned, it was here in Orlando and both my kids were born here. It is a very special place.”
The final round was completed yesterday after heavy rain and winds of 50-60 miles per hour (80-95 kilometers per hour) halted play two days ago.
Woods now has 77 wins on the PGA Tour, five behind Snead for the most all-time. It’s the first time Woods has won in consecutive starts since capturing the Buick Open and Bridgestone Invitational in 2009.
“It’s been years since I’ve hit the ball this consistently day-in and day-out,” Woods said. “I’ve turned some of my weaknesses from last year into strengths. I’m very excited for the rest of this year.”
The 14-time major winner heads to Augusta seeking his first victory in one of golf’s four Grand Slam events since the 2008 U.S. Open. Woods is four major wins shy of Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 titles.
Woods held the top ranking in the world for 623 weeks -- including a record 281 straight weeks -- before losing it to England’s Lee Westwood in October 2010. The demotion came almost a year after his personal and professional life hit the skids with a car accident outside his Florida home, which led to revelations of serial adultery and his divorce.
Woods fell as far as No. 58 in the Official World Golf Ranking before beginning his climb back. He underwent addiction therapy; battled leg injuries; changed his coach, swing and caddie, and lost sponsors, including AT&T Inc. (T) and Accenture Plc (ACN), during his decline.
“It was just a byproduct of hard work, patience and winning golf tournaments,” Woods said of his return to No. 1. “I’m very pleased with the way I’m playing.”
With his third victory in 12 weeks, Woods’s play is making others believers again, including Palmer.
“Right now, looking at him and watching him play, as I have recently, he looks probably as strong and as good from a golf perspective as I’ve ever seen him,” Palmer, 83, told reporters prior to the event’s opening round.
Woods, who replaced Rory McIlroy as the world’s No. 1 golfer, is turning his focus to Nicklaus’s major record. Northern Ireland’s McIlroy, who didn’t play at Bay Hill and said he plans to return at the PGA Tour stop in Houston beginning March 28, is the Masters’ 10-1 second-favorite.
“I don’t want to become as good as I once was,” Woods said at a news conference on March 20. “I want to become better.”
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