Sport Golf

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Woods closes in on No 1 spot as rain stops play

Tiger Woods tests the wind on the second tee, shortly before play was delayed due to weather
Tiger Woods tests the wind on the second tee, shortly before play was delayed due to weather

William S Callahan

ONLY Mother Nature could hold up the march of Tiger Woods back to the top of the world at Bay Hill.

Woods, playing once again with much of the pomp and confidence which helped him win 14 Majors, needed to secure his eighth career win in the Arnold Palmer Invitational to knock Rory McIlroy out of No 1 spot in golf's global rankings.

Few doubted Tiger's ability to wrap up his 77th PGA Tour title after a superb third-round 66 on Saturday left him two shots clear through 54 holes. After all, Woods has won 51 out of 55 tournaments he's led going into the final day.

When he stretched that lead to three by holing an 11-foot putt for birdie at Bay Hill's par-four second hole yesterday, it clearly was going to take something cataclysmic to prevent Woods joining Sam Snead in history as the only man to win the same US Tour event eight times.

The violent thunderstorm which then sent Woods and everyone else scuttling for cover certainly was spectacular as it battered the course with howling winds, torrential rain and caused a blackout in the clubhouse.

A couple of hours later, play was called for the day, leaving four men tied second on nine-under, Keegan Bradley, Ken Duke, John Huh and Tiger's playing companion in the final group, Rickie Fowler. Effectively, their fate today rests on the shoulders of Woods himself.

McIlroy's crown slipped this year as he and coach Michael Bannon wrestled with a serious glitch in his swing.

A final-round 65 at Doral last Sunday week suggested he'd solved the problem and found comfort with his new Nike clubs ... still, McIlroy's performance at this week's Shell Houston Open, his final outing before the Masters, is eagerly awaited.

As McIlroy's star dipped, victories at the Farmers Insurance Open and the Cadillac Championship placed Tiger within touching distance of No 1, a position he last held in October 2010.

In all, McIlroy's had 39 weeks at No 1 and a win in Houston would put him back on top.

Yet on Saturday Woods offered further compelling evidence that he's found the missing link which separated him from the Tiger of yore, an infallible putter.

Graeme McDowell posted a pleasing final-round 69 yesterday to finish a hit-and-miss week on two-over par. Sergio Garcia thrilled spectators by climbing high into an oak tree at 10 yesterday to play his second shot back into the fairway.

The Spaniard still made double-bogey six at the hole and then retired (presumably injured) when the storm closed in two holes later.

Arnold Palmer Invitational,

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