Baldry: Forget how good he was; Tiger wants to 'become better'

Tiger Woods watches his bunker shot at No. 16 on Monday at Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.

Tiger Woods watches his bunker shot at No. 16 on Monday at Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.

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ORLANDO, Fla. - Tiger Woods is the kingpin of Arnie’s Place. Orlando’s adopted son drove up to the old neighborhood from Jupiter, Fla., and stalked these grounds with the swagger of a man determined to reclaim No. 1. A two-shot victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational put Woods back on top of the golf world, unseating Rory McIlroy, who was spotted last week hitting range balls at Miami Municipal (check out photos here).

Could the two be further apart?

“It feels good right now,” smiling wide in the press room in his winner’s jacket, a bottle of Diet Coke resting by his side. He was trying to type “thank you” as fast as he could in response to all the congratulatory text messages he’d received. Woods has won this thing so many times Palmer ought to consider renaming the place Tiger Hill, in honor of the great theater he has provided. Even Mother Nature only managed to delay the inevitable.

An eight-time winner of this tournament, Woods ties Sam Snead (Greater Greensboro Open) for most wins at a single event.

“This event has meant so much to me over the years,” Woods said. “I lived here. This is my first house I ever owned, and it was here in Orlando, and both my kids were born here.”

Last year, Woods ended a 28-month winless streak on the PGA Tour here at Bay Hill with a 5-shot victory over Graeme McDowell. This year during Bay Hill, he closed another dark chapter in his life by opening up about a new relationship with Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn. Of course, “opening up” means posting professional studio prints on his Facebook page. A few candid Instagram pics would’ve been more personal, but Woods said they wanted to limit the “stalk-a-razzi” and “sleazy” web sites that are out following him.

“We basically devalued the first photos,” he said.

When asked what conclusions could be drawn between Woods’ relationships status on Facebook and his return to World No. 1, Woods said “You’re reading way too much into this.”

Perhaps, but it wouldn’t be the first time his private life impacted his play inside the ropes.

Monday at Bay Hill felt like a playoff, with the bulk of the gallery following Woods and the orange-clad Fowler. It’s spring break here in Orange County, which means plenty of kids were out for the late finish along with a fair share of loud-mouth adults. Tiger’s dominance causes grown men to whoop and holler like young girls at a Bieber concert. They carry around stools and chairs to get a glimpse of a swing they’ll never be able to replicate.

It was Woods’ putting, though, that really dazzled.

Woods led the field in strokes gained putting. He was also first in putts per GIR, averaging 1.63.

“Welcome back, Tiger,” a fan yelled as Woods posed with Palmer on the 18th green. He looked toward the spectator and smiled.

At age 37, Woods has 77 career victories, trailing Sam Snead by five. In five starts this year, he has three victories. How good is he in the clutch? In the 56 tournaments in which Woods has led or co-led after three rounds, he has won 52 times.

Woods has two weeks off before heading to Augusta, where he will be considered a heavy favorite. Amazingly, in the three times Woods has won three events prior to the Masters, he did not win the year’s first major. Of course, in 2000, he won the following three.

“I don't want to become as good as I once was,” Woods said early in the week. “No, I don't.

“I want to become better.”

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