Rude: Welcome to Tiger's personal March Madness

Tiger Woods hits his tee shot at No. 7 on Saturday at Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Tiger Woods hits his tee shot at No. 7 on Saturday at Arnold Palmer Invitational.

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12:40:01 AM ET. 04/19/2014




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ORLANDO, Fla. – This is a story about March Madness, Tiger Woods-style.

Let’s start with the mad part. When Woods bogeyed the final three holes of the Arnold Palmer Invitational second round Friday and fell four shots behind leader Justin Rose, he was mad, as in stay-away-from-me angry, the kind where you just want to watch the NCAA basketball tournament that night and forget about golf.

“I was hot for a very long time,” Woods said Saturday.

Now for the madness part. Becoming a Hoop Head helped. He immersed himself into watching game after game of March Madness. That was his effective therapy.

“I watched about every one I could until the very end,” he said.

Hey, whatever works. And that apparently did wonders, not that his own madness went away before his usual short night of sleep. “But once I got up, it was a new day and I was fine,” Woods said.

No coincidence, so was his golf game. Woods converted an 11-foot par putt at No. 1 to avoid a fourth consecutive bogey, then made an eagle and five birdies. The sum was 66, tied for the low round of Saturday. And, just like that, he turned a five-shot deficit at his turn into a two-stroke advantage over Rose, It-Kid Rickie Fowler and 2012 Rookie of the Year John Huh.

So here we go again. A back-in-form Woods has yet another 54-hole lead, and that spells big trouble for everybody else. He is 51-4 in closing said advantages.

Plus, he is at Bay Hill, where he could probably play with an eye patch, a rental set and no gloves and shoes and still win. We’ll stop short of suggesting he could succeed using Phil’s left-handed set.

But he has won here so many times, seven going on eight, that perhaps the “Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard” should be renamed the “Arnold Palmer Invitational Usually Dominated by Tiger Woods.” The same could be said, of course, about the names of tournaments held at Torrey Pines, Firestone and Muirfield Village.

To make things more interesting at those places, perhaps the PGA Tour should handicap and dish out some strokes to everybody else. Or take away those tennis shoes Woods wears.

Anyway, this time some history is at stake at his Florida pet playground. Should Woods win on Sunday – and, really, who doesn’t figure he will? – he will tie the record for most victories at one tournament. Sam Snead won eight times at Greensboro decades ago.

As for Snead, you’ll be hearing more about him the more Woods wins. Snead owns the Tour record of 82 career victories, six more than Woods. Barring unforeseen misfortune, it would seem a foregone conclusion that Woods slams The Slammer’s record to the ground in the next couple of years.

Woods, too, has the No. 1 ranking on the line. He can reclaim it for the first time since Oct. 30, 2010, with a victory and pass Rory McIlroy.

Understandably, Woods is proud of his climb back from a fall that dropped him out of the top 50 at one point. His personal life and game fell apart, of course, in 2010, and he changed swings and had recurring injuries and became just another touring pro.

That is not the case now. The young generation is seeing the Woods of old, the terminator, someone in full bloom with game and swing and confidence and putting. They had their chance to take advantage of him during his 30-month victory drought that ended here a year ago, but that window appears closed.

Give Steve Stricker a large assist, if not a hefty fee, for this latest spike upward. That hourlong, impromptu putting lesson Stricker gave Woods a couple of weeks ago at Doral is taking money out of the bank accounts of others and raising a Woods stack that already is improbably high.

As you may recall, Woods took a career-low 100 putts and made 27 birdies, one shy of a personal best, in winning Doral over, oddly enough, Stricker. And well, Woods is at it again here, ranking first in putting (strokes gained) through three rounds.

“I feel comfortable over putts,” Woods understated.

He was such a master of the obvious late Saturday afternoon, the publicly humble Woods also said this, “I have a chance going into tomorrow.”

A chance? Yeah, a slim chance to lose if he remains upright.

Anyway, that Woods-Stricker lesson dynamic doesn’t happen in other sports. Michael Jordan never gave Shaquille O’Neal a free-throw lesson before a big game, much less see Shaq beat him from the line with no time left. And I’m fairly certain no New York Yankees manager has given an opposing player a batting tip before a World Series game.

But given this buddy-buddy thing in golf, I suggest this: Closest pursuers Rose, Fowler and Huh should get together Sunday morning. They should gang up on Woods by pumping one another with tips and confidence. They should help themselves in any way they can.

And maybe together they go over to Woods on the range and say something like, “Tiger, the three of us noticed your swing looks way too flat.”

Against Woods these days, you need strength in numbers.

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