ORLANDO, Fla. — Bay Hill is not the first chance for Tiger Woods to return to No. 1 in the world.
But it might be his best.
A win this week in the Arnold Palmer Invitational would allow Woods to go back to No. 1 for the first time since the end of October in 2010.
Woods not only is the defending champion at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, he is a seven-time winner at Bay Hill. Not only does his game look sharp, Woods already has two wins this year, both of them with comfortable margins on the back nine at Torrey Pines and Doral.
And his peers are paying attention.
“The one thing I don’t think you give Tiger enough credit for is every time I see him tee it up, he hits it on the center of the bat — hits is solidly all the time,” said Brandt Snedeker, who has done his viewing on television after sitting out the last five weeks with a rib injury. “That is a very underrated quality. Not very many guys do that. When guys have an off week, they tend to mishit it. When Tiger has an off week, it’s not like that.”
Graeme McDowell saw it on the weekend at Doral, where he did his best to make up a deficit and Woods always had an answer, winning by two shots. McDowell also saw it a year ago at Bay Hill in fast, firm conditions that made it feel like Sunday at the U.S. Open. Woods closed with a 70 and won by five.
“I think as difficult as this golf course played last year on Sunday afternoon, I watched the Tiger Woods that’s won 14 major championships,” McDowell said. “I watched a display of discipline. Conservative at times, but firing away from pins. When the golf course gets tougher, the guy is able to slip into a gear where he plays aggressive golf to conservative targets.
“When he’s playing well, he’s hard to beat. Especially when the golf course is as difficult as this one was last year on Sunday afternoon.”
Woods sank to as low as No. 58 in November 2011 before making a gradual return toward the top, getting a power boost last year by winning three times. He went to the PGA Championship with a chance to reach No. 1 by winning, but then he failed to convert a 36-hole share of the lead. Rory McIlroy won at Kiawah Island, and with three more wins the rest of the way, the 23-year-old from Northern Ireland appeared to be entrenched at No. 1 for some time.
As McIlroy has floundered this year, Woods has been charging.
Whether it happens this week is of little consequence to Woods. He has long said that winning takes care of everything, especially the No. 1 ranking. He’s in no rush. But he is proud of his climb back to at least be in this position.
“We’re still getting better,” Woods said. “Things are still becoming more efficient. These two wins I’ve had this year, I’ve built myself some nice leads, which means that I’ve played really well, and things are starting to come around and become more efficient day in and day out.”