Arnold Palmer Invitational: Woods clinches title to reclaim top ranking
It was a day of restoration. The tornado had passed and peace was restored to the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando. Somehow, the final round at Arnie’s place was also bathed in the spirit of redemption for Tiger Woods. And the legend soaked himself in joy even as he marched inexorably towards his 77th career title – his third this year. The unbridled joy upon the visage of Woods when he just missed a monster par putt from nearly 75 feet at the 18th summed up the luxuries afforded to Woods in the final round. It only took a modest 70 (13 under 275) to complete the rites over a field that lacked both the inspiration and vision to mount any serious challenge to the vilified God of golf. Victory helped Tiger complete his arduous ascent back from the self-inflicted nadir of November 2009. He replaced the struggling Rory McIlroy as the world No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking and supplanted Brandt Snedeker atop the Fedex Cup standings by passing the 1600 points mark this season.
Fowler declared his intent to do battle by sinking an improbable birdie from the edge of the 12th green, almost 40 feet from the pin, to raise hopes of a meaningful run down the final stretch. Coming on the back of a birdie from 29 feet by Fowler just before making the turn, there was obvious pressure on the defending champion. But Tiger, calm as a monk, went around the pin surveying his putting options from about 27 feet before curling the ball slightly right to nail an astonishing birdie.
It was the sort of response that turns almost anecdotal when awestruck men discuss the events in a noisy bar far removed from the pristine course that lay mute witness to such measured perfection. Fowler, however, kept pegging away, and another 22 foot monster at the 14th that flirted with the lip before dancing in cut the lead by one, but there were only four left to play. The urgency on the strained face of Fowler was palpable.
Despite the Californian’s heroics, Tiger still had a two shot cushion. Even as time was running out, Woods offered a rare opening for his opponent at the 15th. Staring almost straight at the flag, he pulled his second shot into a bunker to the right. Unfortunately, Fowler, like many an ordinary professional, found the moment too hard to bear. He hooked too far left to muff the chance as he stumbled to his first bogey of the round. Fortunately for Fowler, Tiger followed suit and they arrived at the 16th tee still separated by two strokes.
Winning is a daunting task, and when you are expected to stare down a champion in the class of Woods, the task turns into an almost insurmountable mountain. To his credit, Fowler held his own for much of the day before unravelling at the par-5 16th. Sensing the paucity of time, Fowler sought the flag, only to slip into reverse gear and meet with terminal decline – twice finding the water by the green before falling to 8-under with a triple bogey that destroyed his soul. Fowler was carrying the scars of that 84 whilst he was paired with Woods in the final round of Memorial last year. Monday’s moisty mess at the 16th is sure to have deepened the wound.
One man’s misfortune is another’s opportunity. Justin Rose finished solo second, thanks to the implosion of Fowler. The world No. 5 had started the week with an inspired 65 on Thursday and failed to reproduce the magic when most needed. Rose needed something spectacular in the final round to catch up with the leader, but had to settle for a 70 that matched Tiger’s round on the day.
In a tie for third at 8-under alongside Fowler – who made an expensive 73 – were Mark Wilson and Keegan Bradley with one-under 71, as was Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano – who settled for an even par 72. Thorbjorn Olesen was alone at seventh at 7 under for the week. Five men finished at 6 under 282 to round off the top ten for the week – William McGirt (68), Henrik Stenson (71) and Bill Haas, Jimmy Walker and Ken Duke each carded a two-over 74.
You might never again respect Tiger’s ability to be human enough, but there is no doubting the man’s place among the pantheon of club wielding angels. It is true that Woods is full of flaws like many among our species, but then the promise of Tiger isn’t about perfection in his pyjama. Far from it, he is a liberated genius immediately as he steps on the lustrous green and gold courses that dot his alternative universe. We should learn to celebrate his brilliance while we can; for even such an enigmatic genius has no choice but to deal with inevitable mortality in the years to come.
For now, we can live in the fond hope that Tiger does have the legs to torch Augusta and light up golf in the festive colours that have long gone missing. The Masters begins on 11th April; mark your calendars for an exciting weekend of top quality golf. Rose took home 300 points and $669,600 in prize money. Rickie Fowler and three other men tied in third had to stay contented with 133.75 points and a purse of $297,600 each. Meanwhile, Tiger (500 pts) will take a short break with his new girlfriend Lindsay Vonn and discuss how they could burn some of the $1,116,000 prize money that lined his pocket at Bay Hill.
-13: T Woods (US) – 275
-11: J Rose (Eng) – 277
-8: M Wilson (US), K Bradley (US), G F’dez-Castano (Spa), R Fowler (US) – 280
-7: T Olesen (Den) – 281
-6: W McGirt (US), Henrik Stenson (Swe), Bill Haas (US), Jimmy Walker (US), Ken Duke (US) – 282
Selected others: -4: B Watson (US); -2: I Poulter (Eng); +2: G McDowell (NI); +4: V Singh (Fij); +5: L Westwood (Eng)