Tiger Wins at Bay Hill


Monday, March 19th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- All year long, Tiger Woods has said that
even the best player in the world needs a few good bounces to win.
He finally got them Sunday in the Bay Hill Invitational and,
along with some of his old magic, put to rest all this babble about
his so-called slump.
In a dramatic duel with Phil Mickelson, Woods was spared another
disaster when his tee shot hit a spectator in the neck and stayed
in bounds on the 18th hole. Then, he hit a 5-iron off a dead patch
of trampled grass into 15 feet for birdie and a one-stroke victory.
If this was Dubai, the ball would have gone in the water.
If this was San Diego, the putt would have stayed out of the
hole.
Instead, it was a joyful journey down memory lane for Woods, a
winner for the first time this year and on a roll as he makes his
way north to the Masters in three weeks.
"It's always nice to win," said Woods, who made three birdies
on the final five holes to close with a 3-under 69 on a cool,
cloudy day at Bay Hill. "Today was very satisfying, the fact that
it wasn't a pretty round of golf, but I got the ball in the hole."
Woods, who finished at 273, became only the second player to
repeat as champion at Arnold Palmer's tournament. More importantly,
he won for the first time in seven starts this year, the longest he
has ever gone at the start of a season without winning.
Woods won for the 25th time on the PGA Tour in just 96 starts.
Better yet, he probably won't hear any more questions about a slump
for a while.
"I guess if I don't win next week, I don't know if it's a slump
or not," he said.
Still, the questions were annoying. Woods won nine times last
year on the PGA Tour and won the last three majors with a combined
score of 49-under par. Anything short of victory every week was
unexpected.
In six previous tournaments, he was in the top 10 four times and
twice had a chance to win going into the last hole. He made double
bogey with a ball in the water at Dubai two weeks ago, and missed
an eagle putt that would have momentarily tied for the lead in San
Diego a month ago.
"If they believe that's a slump, then they really don't
understand," he said.
They might have a hard time believing this one. Woods has said
he was playing well and couldn't win. On Sunday, he hit the ball
all over the course and walked off holding a trophy.
Go figure.
"That's the beauty of our game," he said. "It's very fickle.
There are days when you go out there and you play great. Other
days, you play great and score like a dog. Some days, you go out
there and do what I did -- don't really know where the ball is going
but you somehow get the ball in the hole quicker."
Indeed, Sunday was hardly a day for style points.
Woods only hit one fairway with his driver, and his goal toward
the end of his round was to simply keep it between the
out-of-bounds stakes on both sides of the fairway. Six times he had
to rely on his stellar short game to save par.
But while winning requires a little luck, Woods provided
extraordinary skill.
"I felt like I did what I needed to do to ultimately win,"
said Mickelson, who closed with a 6-under 66, the best score of the
round. "And Tiger did the same."
It was the best show on the PGA Tour this year, two of the best
players in golf going toe-to-toe even though they were playing two
holes apart.
Mickelson, who started the final round four strokes behind,
caught Woods with consecutive birdies on the 11th and 12th holes,
and surged ahead with a 10-foot birdie on No. 15 that put him at 13
under.
As Mickelson was lining up his eagle putt up the ridge on the
par-5 16th, he could hear a roar from 1,000 yards away -- Woods had
just made a 40-foot birdie putt on the 14th to move back into a
tie.
Mickelson two-putted for birdie, then made a sensational par
save on the 18th with a lob wedge from 82 yards that nearly went
in.
Woods still had problems. He hit his drive so far left down the
16th fairway that he was about 4 feet from going out of bounds, and
a truck used as a platform for a TV camera had to be lowered off
the jack and driven out of his way.
Risking the tournament on one shot, Woods hit a 7-iron from 195
yards, high and long, over the pond and hopping up to the back
shelf for a two-putt birdie and another tie for the lead.
Then came the wild finish.
Woods had little choice but to hit a driver on the 441-yard 18th
hole, playing into a stiff breeze. He hooked it left -- "a Nolan
Ryan curveball," he called it -- and hit a spectator in the neck,
dropping next to a cart path.
A woman picked it up and replaced it, perhaps noticing either
the Nike swoosh or the name "Tiger" stamped on the ball. Maybe
both.
Woods got a free drop anyway, because his feet were on the cart
path. Luck out of the way, the rest was sheer talent. He rifled his
5-iron from 195 yards, fading gently over the water and toward the
back of the green, 15 feet away.
While Woods talked about his victory as no big deal, the emotion
he showed when the putt went in spoke for him. He let out a roar,
punched the air repeatedly with his fist and hugged caddie Steve
Williams.
Mickelson was waiting behind the 18th green, and wasn't
surprised the putt fell.