By: Vaughn Wilson
Tiger Woods started the final round of the 2009 Arnold Palmer Invitational five strokes behind the leader Sean O’Hair, but put together one of his best closing rounds to win at the final hole. Woods hit a 16-foot birdie on the 72nd hole to finish one ahead of O’Hair.
In the words of the great Yogi Berra, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” Last year Woods hit a 25-foot putt to make birdie to beat Bart Bryant at the final hole for a come-from-behind victory there as well.
With a fierce storm that passed through Orlando at 6am, play was suspended until nearly 1pm. Tournament organizers sent pairings off both the first and 10th tees and grouped them in threesomes in order to get the round in ahead of the darkness.
Even with the adjustments, it was nearly dark when Woods’ final rotation found the bottom of the cup at the 18th hole. The delay didn’t hurt attendance as the day was clearly the largest in attendance of the four day tournament. The cheers at the final hole replicated that of a football game with tens of thousands of spectators within 50-100 feet of the green.
Woods had major surgeries just nine months ago to repair a broken leg as well as reconstruct his ailing knee. The surgery was just days after he had won the U.S. Open playing through the obvious pain of the leg.
Additionally, Woods added a member to his family in the off-season. His son Charlie Axel Woods, named for golfing great Charlie Sifford, was born. Sportcasters wondered if these events would distract Woods or make him less-dedicated. Now they have their answer. Woods looks like the Tiger of old. That’s good and bad news for the PGA Tour.
The good news is the television ratings when Tiger is in the hunt like Sunday are usually off the charts, no matter what other event is taking place. The “Elite 8” of the NCAA tournament was going on at the time of the golf tournament on Sunday. Tiger’s appeal has caused programming adjustments by other sports such as the NBA as not to conflict with a Sunday run by Woods.
Woods never misses a must-make putt. Sure he misses putts, but he never misses one with the tournament on the line. Everyone had a feeling he was going to make the 16-foot putt. As he started the putt rolling, you could feel and hear the groundswell of energy. With every roll of his signature Nike One golf ball, they crowd got louder. While the putt was on the way, Woods backed-off gathering energy for a monumental celebration. When the putt creeped in the left side, Woods let out a roar worthy of the king of the jungle. In this game, he truly is.
Arnold Palmer, the tournaments namesake and host greeted Tiger with an awesome comment. “Your dad would be proud,” Palmer uttered. He was referreing to Woods late father Earl who groomed him for the game mentally and physically.
This victory comes just two weeks ahead of the first major tournament of 2009, The Masters. Woods has won four times there and will certainly be the favorite with this performance.
For those naysayers who said he wouldn’t be the same, he delivered a resounding “I’m back,” with his play at Bay Hill.