Tiger Woods could return to No. 1 in the golfing world with a victory in two weeks at Bay Hill. By the way he handled the exemplary field at the WGC-Cadallic Challenge at Doral, not many are willing to bet against him regaining his place at the top of the game.
Woods capped a brilliant putting week with a final round 71 Sunday to take his 76th career title by two shots over Steve Stricker, his long-time friend who gave him a 45-minute putting lesson before the start of the tournament that Woods credits for his success on the greens all four days.
“Thank you to Steve for the putting lesson,” Woods, the No. 2-ranked player behind Rory McIroy, said at the trophy presentation. “It was one of those weeks where I felt pretty good about how I was playing, made a few putts and got it rolling.”
And rolling and rolling. He did not let up, although he led by as many as five shots Sunday.
“That’s how I know I can play,” Woods said. “That’s the thing. To be able to bring it out a couple times so far this year — and then be able to close and get the Ws on top of that — that’s nice. Any time I can win prior to Augusta, it always feels good.”
He has now won twice before the year’s first major, the Masters, next month in Augusta, which is a first in five years. In fact, Woods now has five wins in the calendar year, the most of anyone in the world, and he seems poised to regain the No. 1 position in the world at some point as McIlroy searches for his game.
Stricker’s impromptu putting advice served Woods well, he said. And worked against Stricker, who shot a 68 to finish at 17-under to Woods’ -19.
“At times you kick yourself,” Stricker said with a laugh about helping Woods. “He’s a good friend. We talk a lot about putting. It’s good to see him playing well.”
Woods said he would have taken his seventh title at this event without Stricker’s help, sort of. “I would like to say I probably would have, but . . .” he said with a smile. “I’ve been putting at home and it just still hadn’t felt right. I still was a little bit off. . . He basically got me in the same position that I was at Torrey (Pines, where Woods won earlier this year). So once he put me in there where I felt comfortable, I said, ‘Well, this is not too foreign. This is what I was a month or so ago.’ And I started rolling it and it felt really, really good.”
It felt particularly good for Woods, he said, because “Majors and World Golf Championships are the best because you know you are playing against the best players. That’s what makes wins like this special. That’s why I love to compete.”
Not that he needs the money, but by finishing ahead of the field with a 269 over the four days, Woods earned $1.5 million.