Rose blooms even as the focus shifts to Tiger at Arnold Palmer Invitational
The swagger is back and so is the roar. Suddenly, the sedate game of golf has a spring in its step, followers are rubbing hands in glee and the anticipation is gripping everyone who has something to do with the game. Tiger Woods is showing the clearest signs of a return from hibernation and if he were to indeed snatch the top billing this Sunday with a victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at the Bay Hill course, it will no doubt add to the intrigue ahead of the Augusta Masters in April. Meanwhile, Justin Rose played a stellar first round to take the early lead on a cold and windy day at Arnie’s Place, as they fondly call this venue.
Rose stumbled initially, but the bogey on the 11th was forgotten quickly as the Brit went about scorching the greens with a fine display. The high point of a round that contained an eagle and six birdies came on the par-5 16th. Rose remained red hot even after he made the turn, racking up four straight birdies between the 4th through the 7th holes as he ended the day with an impressive card of seven under 65.
“It was a good round of golf, I kept myself out of trouble for the most part which is tough to do here at Bay Hill,” said Rose. “I thought I put together a clever round of golf and capitalised with the putter today. That’s as good of a putting round I’ve had in a long, long time.”
Tiger, seven time winner at the Bay Hill, matched his playing partner with an eagle on the 16th, but returned the gains back to the course immediately when he stuttered on the 17th and 18th where he had to settle for bogeys. The 37-year-old whose wins at Doral and Torrey Pines helped send imaginations soaring into rarefied heights had a relatively bad day at the office. But then, the good news for the embattled Florida star is that he salvaged a 3 under 69 that left him four off the leader and still in the hunt.
“I scored well. I certainly didn’t play my best, but I got around and made a few good saves out there. I haven’t seen these pins out there. They’re pretty dicey,” summed up Woods. “They’re really tough to get after, especially with the wind blowing the way it is. It was so cool and the ball wasn’t flying, and it presented a pretty good challenge.”
British Open champion Ernie Els was alongside Rose and Woods, but he was picked for some nasty treatment by his own clubs. Els was riding on errors, as he kept pulling his tee shots wide. The South African gave away five strokes on his first five holes and was consumed through the rest of the day, desperately seeking to salvage meaning. In the end, he had to be content with a 75. Els will need a much better round on Friday or face an early exit from Orlando. Masters champion Bubba Watson was in a similar pickle – making do with a 74 despite scoring birdies on three of his last four holes.
PGA Tour Rookie of the Year 2012, John Huh got off to a blistering start and when he made the turn on the 18th, he needed just 31 strokes to get through the back nine. The 22-year-old got to 6 under with a birdie on the par-4 fifth hole and was a birdie away from catching up for a share of the lead. Needing a birdie on the final hole, Huh found a fairway bunker and was forced to take a bogey on the ninth to settle two strokes off the mark set by Rose. American John Rollins and Canadian Brad Fritsch were tied for third after carding an equally impressive 68.
The Arnold Palmer Invitational is doing a fine job of getting the scene ready for what promises to be an exciting month ahead as the tour inches its way to Augusta for the first major of the year. Meanwhile, expect some pulsating drama through the next three days as all eyes are clued on Tiger to see if he can pull out an eighth victory at the tournament and return to the helm of this beautiful sport.