Tiger Woods back on course in Arnold Palmer

By: samjack

Working the late shift has never been an option for Tiger Woods. He is a dawn-breaker when it comes to practice. Until this weekend, when dusk was falling as he searched for the stardust of his golfing genius.
He found it after two unhappy rounds at the Arnold Palmer Invitational tournament over the old legend’s Bay Hill course and now he is in contention and looking for his sixth successive tournament win.
After the first two rounds, something wasn’t right in the normally infallible swing. His iron shots were missing the intended targets and he headed for the practice ground when he had planned to work out in the gym.
When he started with three birdies in his first four holes yesterday the leaderboards began to quiver.
Others felt the vibes. The renowned workaholic, Vijay Singh, began to splutter as Tiger’s name appeared and a double-bogey six at the par-4, 459 yards eighth when he drove into the lake, sent him tumbling from leadership.
As the jousting went on some unlikely names were making their claim on the first prize million-dollar cheque.
Bart Bryant, Cliff Kresge and Ken Duke would struggle for recognition on most American streets but they were giving their all.
Nick Watney, a 25-year-old from Las Vegas, was among them and leading the event until he came to the sixteenth. He drove out of bounds and put his second shot in the water for a quadruple bogey and said farewell to the dream.
Tiger’s third round 66 left him smiling.
He laughed when he said he had bumped into Arnold Palmer in the locker room and had been told: “Get off your butt and get out there and do it.”
He did and nothing was more spectacular than the 6-iron he flew 162 yards to two feet for a birdie on the notoriously difficult sixteenth (485 yards). The night shift, he said, had paid off.
As the day’s play drew to a close he was joint leader at six under-par and showing the game face that has won him 13 Majors, 63 PGA Tour victories and titles in 12 different countries.
“I feel good,” he said. “I worked on my game last night and I did again this morning and felt like I had a pretty good handle on what I needed to do today.”
Then there was Lee Westwood, carrying the British banner and telling us that long and punishing winter hours locked in his garage lifting weights had become sessions of enjoyment and reward. He is playing well enough to win the tournament later today.
He has been booming tee-shots way past his playing partners all week and puts it all down to the stints in his Worksop sweat shop. The countdown to the US Masters has begun and for all the power of his play there is a calm contentment about him.
It was shaken when his putter began to let him down towards the end of his round. He missed a two-footer on the twelfth but will need to shoot low today.
He was always a big lad but with any flab turning to solid muscle he has become one of the longest hitters in golf. With a couple of short game lessons from former touring professional Mark Roe he has refined his touch around the greens if not with the flatstick.
Evidence of his new power came at the dog-leg fifteenth, a par four of 425 yards. For the first time in several visits to Bay Hill he was able to clear the trees and take out the dog-leg.
He said: “I feel like I have more control with my bigger muscles in my body. I can hit it harder and not lose control which is great. My legs feel very solid beneath me so I am pleased that all the hard work is paying off.”
Westwood converted part of his garage into a gym. When he is not out on tour he spends two hours a day working on his fitness, much of it lifting weights. He says he is in his “power phase” at the moment.
“It was hard work at first, but now I enjoy it,” he said. Habit-forming, he confided over dinner.
Mentally there is a toughness, too. He bogeyed the fourth and fifth yesterday, putting his approach shots into the thick, unforgiving greenside surround but he recovered his poise and birdied the next. Back-to-back bogeys at the twelfth and thirteenth certainly damaged his cause.
With the wind blowing and the troublesome greens quickening there was a remarkable round from Sean O’Hair that took him from one over par to six under with a 63 that put him in the mix of contenders.

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