MIAMI, Florida (Reuters) – Tiger Woods completed his tournament preparation for next month’s U.S. Masters in the best possible way by winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando on Sunday.
The American world number one, who said at the start of the week he had finally shaken off the rust after eight months on the sidelines, came from five strokes behind to triumph by a shot.
“It’s always nice to win a tournament pre Augusta and I was able to do that again this year,” Woods told reporters after beating overnight leader Sean O’Hair with a birdie on the final hole.
“It’s a validation of what I’ve been working on from the physical standpoint … but also the work I’ve been doing with (swing coach) Hank (Haney). This win definitely validates all the things I’ve been trying to do.”
Woods was delighted to visit the winner’s circle again in only his third tournament since coming back from reconstructive knee surgery.
He made his hotly anticipated return at last month’s WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona, where he was eliminated in the second round, and then tied for ninth in last week’s WGC-CA Championship at Doral.
“This feels like we hadn’t left,” Woods said after clinching his 66th PGA Tour title with two birdies in the last four holes at the Bay Hill Club and a closing three-under-par 67.
“You just remember how to do it. It hasn’t been that long for me but you just have that feel of what to do and it’s a matter of getting it done.
“As I look back at my three tournaments, I’ve gotten better at each one and that the whole idea was to keep progressing to Augusta,” the 14-time major winner added.
“I was hoping I could get my game where I could feel hitting shots again because I’d been only on the range and putting at home.
“Doral was great for that because I got better every day with my feel. This week I came right out of the gate and I had it just because I had basically got it down at Doral.”
Woods, who will be bidding for a fifth Masters title in his next start, produced superb form from tee to green at Doral but struggled with his putting. At Bay Hill, he putted well and was therefore able to score well.
As for the perfect combination at Augusta National for the April 9-12 Masters, he said with a flashing smile: “I’d like to hit the ball like I did at Doral and putt like I did this week.”
On Sunday, Woods sank a 16-footer in fading light to birdie the final hole and claim a record sixth victory at Bay Hill.
“It was uphill and, not only that, it was into the grain, left to right,” he said of his final stroke of the week.
“I kept telling myself, with the temperature getting a little cooler, this putt is going to be a little bit slower because of that. I hit a pure putt, hit it really solid and it held its line all the way there.”