Tiger Woods taking business-like approach to Arnold Palmer Invitational preparation

ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 13: Tiger Woods gets in a little practice at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard at Bay Hill Club and Lodge on March 13, 2018 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Tracy Wilcox/PGA TOUR) Tracy Wilcox/PGA Tour

Tiger Woods taking business-like approach to Arnold Palmer Invitational preparation


Tiger Woods taking business-like approach to Arnold Palmer Invitational preparation

ORLANDO – Floodlights covered the driving range just before dawn Wednesday morning at Bay Hill. A small crowd gathered near the far West end of the practice area where three former No. 1-ranked players were working side by side.

Tiger Woods was closest to the spotlight at the end of the range, whacking away in a gray sweater and black warmup pants. Adam Scott hit balls to his immediate right with Rory McIlroy right of Scott.

When Woods abandoned his post around 7:15 a.m. to head to the first tee for his Arnold Palmer Invitational pro-am round, McIlroy intercepted him. Woods was a few paces away following a brief chat when McIlroy raised his voice to let him know he’d heard about his 129.2 mph swing speed at last week’s Valspar Championship, fastest registered by any player on Tour this season.

Even the best players in the world are once again in awe of what Woods is doing at age 42.

“Each and every week I’ve learned from what I’ve done and more importantly I’m learning my body,” said Woods, who finished T-2 and one shot off the lead at the Valspar. “These are all things that are new. So, I’m still learning. I’m getting a lot better at it, which is nice, and I think you’re starting to see the fruits of that now with the little tweaks I’ve made and I’m excited about it.”

Woods continued to talk about his progress as a process. It’s been less than a year since his spinal fusion surgery in April and he’s entering just his fifth Tour start of the year this week at Bay Hill. Woods is thinking long term this time around, and Bay Hill will likely serve as his final tune-up prior to the Masters next month.

Woods took a business-like approach to his pro-am round Wednesday and didn’t seem too interested in scoring. He has always known how to do that and currently ranks fifth on Tour this season with a 69.47 scoring average. Wednesday was about re-learning a course he has historically owned, with eight victories at Bay Hill, but hasn’t played in competition since 2013.

Few details escaped him.

“This is a new tee,” Woods said to himself as he approached the par-4 third hole.

He pulled 3-wood and placed his tee shot in the fairway, something which is happening with more regularity these days.

Woods hit 10 of 14 fairways in regulation on the round and pulled driver eight times, something he’ll need to do more often this week than in his two most recent starts at Valspar and the Honda Classic at PGA National.

The driver was working on the back nine, where he hit all four attempts into the fairway and showed off the newfound distance. Woods was in the middle of the fairway at the par-5 12th, taking a few practice swings with his 3-wood when a member of his entourage requested an Arnold Palmer-esque swing.

Woods laughed and obliged with an exaggerated uppercut follow through reminiscent of this tournament’s namesake. He first met Palmer when he was 15 years old and considered him a friend. Palmer died in 2016.

“We had so many great times. None more so than the last time I won here (in 2013),” Woods said. “I’m cleaning out my locker and he’s over there having his ice tea thing. He’s just sitting there and said ‘Hey, grab a seat.’ Absolutely. Yes, sir. So we sat down, we just started to BS and have a great time together and I’m going to miss those times, for sure.”

Palmer was golf’s everyman and Woods will never be that. But he continues to engage more with fellow playing partners and fans. He signed bibs for the caddies in his group and several other items while waiting to hit on the par-3 17th hole. After crushing a drive at the par-5 sixth hole on an aggressive line, over the water which flanks the majority of the left side of the right-to-left dogleg fairway, a caddie asked Woods if he would recommend the same line for a 16-handicapper.

“Oh, way left of that!” Woods joked.

These are unofficial rounds, in which Woods will sometimes play a second ball and tells nearby fans to keep his errant shots. Once he reached the green he didn’t spend much time reading his putts. The pin placements usually aren’t difficult at these things, an effort to keep the amateurs moving along.

Woods instead spent a long time on each green putting to a variety pins that will be used over the next four days. He always does this, but he seemed extra intent on re-learning these greens that can get very speedy. 

This was a no-nonsense approach from Woods, playing in his fourth tournament in five weeks. It didn’t take him long to get back into contention on a Sunday again, and he handled himself well with a 1-under 70 in the final round of the Valspar.

His run at the Valspar was as captivating as it was unexpected. Now Woods knows his work is just beginning as he tries to remain in the spotlight this week at Bay Hill, one early morning range session at a time.

“It’s three days of work to get to that point,” Woods said. “Once I get there, I’ll be alright. It’s getting to that point, getting my game consistent and good enough where I can play myself into contention. Once I get there, I’ve done it enough times, I can figure it out. But getting to that point is a different story.”


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