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Woods sets the agenda in thrilling style

Iain Carter | 02:10 UK time, Monday, 30 March 2009

This blog was intended to be a relatively big cat free zone - we've spoken so much about him in recent weeks - but it's hard to ignore Tiger Woods's latest success.

It was simply stunning as he snatched his sixth Bay Hill professional title at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and returned to winning ways just three tournaments into his comeback.

The manner of the triumph was typical Tiger, holing from just under 16ft for a winning birdie on the closing hole - a stretch of Arnie's real estate that up to that point had yielded just six birdies all day long.

And this one was completed in near darkness. "There's some kind of voodoo witchcraft going on with this guy," commented a reporting colleague.

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It would be hard to argue if you didn't know better because what we do know is that Woods is a competitor previously unseen in the game of golf, such is his insatiable appetite for victories.

He has an ability to will the ball into hole. "The greatest pressure putter to have ever played the game," said Johnny Miller in the immediate aftermath of this victory.

And what did Woods say? "It feels good."

All the emotion had poured out with the fist pumping embrace he'd given caddie Steve Williams and that was as much as Woods could muster verbally afterwards.

As he talked at more length it was all analysis. Where was the human feeling? Must have been buried deep in the golfing machine. "It just validates all that I have been doing."

Well it stirred emotion elsewhere and thrilled early evening primetime TV. He's put golf right back on the map just in time for the Masters.

Which takes me to where I thought this blog would go...

Not withstanding the Tiger threat, from Humble beginnings are Masters won? The rejigging of the golfing calendar means many of Europe's top players are taking a different route to the first major of the year.

Programmed into their sat-navs will be the Redstone Golf Club at Humble, Texas the home of the Houston Open which will provide a final competitive tune-up ahead of the Masters.

In previous years, many have preferred to take off the week before Augusta having played either the Players' Championship or the WGC date at Doral. With Bay Hill slotting into that date this year several leading Europeans skipped Arnold Palmer's Orlando stop and ritual defeat at Woods's hands.

Now they'll play Houston in the knowledge they won't feel burned out by the time they head down Magnolia Lane. Furthermore, the Redstone course will be set up with Augusta in mind, though how close it gets to replicating the demands of the Masters is open to question.

"Normally I take off the week before a major," Justin Rose said. "But I felt last year I didn't get enough momentum going, I was going one week on, one week off so this year I'm trying to get some nice runs of events, three in a row, stuff like that.

"And I heard Houston does a really good job in terms of preparing their golf course in a somewhat similar way to Augusta," the Florida-based Englishman added.

Rose struggled for consistency at Bay Hill and will join up with Ryder Cup team-mates Paul Casey, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Robert Karlsson and Lee Westwood in Texas.


Luke Donald, Alvaro Quiros, Martin Kaymer and Rory McIlroy will also be there and Padraig Harrington is another following the Rose three-in-a-row route.

But, of course, Woods won't be making the same trip. Despite his comparative inactivity this year, the world number one will not deviate from his tried and trusted routine of taking the week off before a major.

And why not? Besides returning to winning ways, happily for Woods, Bay Hill also provided a major style test with punishing rough, demanding length and firm greens.

Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell feels the test was just what was required. The Scottish Open champion said: "This golf course differs a lot from Augusta but I think you can compare the mindset.

"Four is a great score; you have to place the ball correctly on the greens when you are going into these difficult pin positions. The greens aren't Augusta quick but they're tricky to read.

"The Masters has become a more difficult prospect than it has in years gone by. I played there last week and saw the length of the new course and the way the greens are set up and I'm really excited to get back there.

"It rewards great iron play and unbelievable short games. I've been working really hard on my chipping and putting and I'm looking forward to putting it to the test.

"But there's no question this week at Bay Hill is a great work out mentally."

While so many of his European colleagues will be feeling the heat of competition McDowell is now contemplating another visit to Augusta "to do some more homework".

It'll be fascinating to see which approach works best and it's worth remembering that Trevor Immelman went to Texas last year.

The South African had rounds of 72 and 73, missed the cut and headed to Georgia duly humbled. A week later he became Masters champion.

Finally, a couple of footnotes from Bay Hill.

Was I alone in feeling uncomfortable as American television did its best to locate Woods's lost ball on the final hole of his third round?

While a succession of replays were shown of his errant second shot ploughing into a thick grassy bank, commentator Johnny Miller was relaying specific instructions to on course reporters who were assisting the search party.

In this case there was not much advantage to be gained; not even Woods would have been able to advance the ball to the green had it been found.

But this isn't the point. The fact is he was gaining a potential advantage through his omnipresence on our screens, which seems unfair to those in the same tournament who plod away unnoticed.

And while we're on the subject of Woods's TV presence, it was interesting to note that NBC overran their third round coverage by 10 minutes or so to cover the dramatic end to his third round.

But as soon as he'd holed his putt it was time to say bye-bye from Bay Hill, never mind that the leader Sean O'Hair and Jason Gore were still to complete their rounds and drop the shots that helped let Woods back into the tournament.

Good job too that neither O'Hair nor Gore needed any extra help finding their ball on that final hole.

But to offer some balance, it was great for golf in the US that NBC decided to eat in to Sunday primetime schedules to stay with the action right until the end.

They'd have done that for Arnie in his pomp and it illustrates the extent of Woods's influence today by showing why his return to action is so welcome.

His opponents might not be thinking the same thing though.

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