So, is this the week when normal service is resumed? For the third leg of Tiger Woods’ comeback after knee surgery, the PGA Tour moves to one of the great man’s favourite venues, Bay Hill, for the annual renewal of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Though he didn’t even come close to winning at either of the two recent WGC events, Woods did go a long way towards proving his wellbeing at Doral. His long game looked in excellent shape; up to the standard seen before the injury; and his scoring improved as the tournament went on. Despite finishing a perfectly respectable 9th, Woods never got close to Phil Mickelson because, as he admitted himself, he lacked sharpness on and around the greens. A fortnight on, a period during which we can be sure he’s been putting in the hours on the practice range, its not unreasonable to expect to see significant improvement in his short game.
This week’s test is also very different and more suitable, for a variety of reasons. Tiger is bidding for his sixth title on the course this century, a record that more than justifies this week’s odds of 5/2. Whereas Doral was a low scoring affair, making a comeback from a slow start almost impossible, it’s unlikely anyone will get away from the field at Bay Hill. This par-70, with its penal rough and water hazards, is a very stern test and a repeat of the long game excellence seen at Doral would ensure Woods remains very close to the lead.
Then there’s the opposition, or lack of it. Of course being Bay Hill, the field is of a top-class variety, but most of Woods’ principal rivals are absent. Most significantly, Mickelson doesn’t play, nor do the next two highest ranked players Geoff Ogilvy and Sergio Garcia. The biggest names on show are Padraig Harrington and Vijay Singh, both of whom have been badly out of form so far this year. Singh, top-3 three times and no worse than 7th in the last four years, looks particularly vulnerable after a miserable 53rd place at Doral.