Tiger Woods’ resurgent form is exciting golf enthusiasts, whilst worrying the bookmakers, and if Tiger wins at this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, he could be teeing off at the 2013 Masters Tournament on April 11 as World Number 1, ending Rory McIlroy’s 32-week reign at the top of the world ranking. Woods has spent more than 12 years of his illustrious golfing career as World Number 1, but since his private life imploded in 2009 with the sex scandal that shattered his marriage, he struggled to regain consistent form for a couple of years. Since then he has doggedly fought back from the abyss and has won four tournament titles, including two this year - the Farmers Insurance Open in January and the WGC-Cadillac Championship a fortnight ago.
Woods is keen to defend the Arnold Palmer Invitational and few would bet against him. He has won on the famous Orlando course seven times during his career, most recently last year, and he will tee off as favourite with bookmaker Boylesports offering skinny odds of 3/1 that Tiger will win yet again. Phil Mickelson is second favourite but he is streets away in the running, with odds of 18/1 from bookmaker William Hill and, similarly, the third favourite, Justin Rose, is offered at long odds of 18/1 from the same bookmaker. Graeme McDowall, the runner-up to Woods at last year’s tournament, is 20/1 to win (from Irish bookmaker PaddyPower) but he has enjoyed great form over the past few weeks and will be seeking revenge for his 2012 defeat. G-Mac will need all his accuracy off the tee and his well-known tenacity to win over Tiger in a tournament that promises to combine a tough course with difficult Florida winds and expected rain.
Earlier this week Tiger Woods revealed that he is dating Lindsey Vonn, Olympic gold-medal winning skier, in his first serious relationship since his serial philandering was exposed to the world. Woods and Vonn posted the news simultaneously on Facebook, with Woods saying “Lindsey and I have been friends for some time, but over the last few months we have become very close and are now dating”. His on-line revelation contradicts his perennial policy of never commenting about his private life but may be intended to ensure that media interest at the Arnold Palmer Invitation focuses only on his golf.
So all is well with Mr Woods as he concludes the first quarter of 2013 with resurgence in his form on the golf course, and a new girlfriend to boot. But following his nadir in 2009 and its disastrous effect on his game, his fellow golfers know that he is beatable and his aura of invincibility has now much diminished. Rory McIlroy, who will not be playing at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, still presents a major threat to Woods despite the Northern Irishman’s dip in form over the winter months. McIlroy will be playing fewer golf tournaments this year in order to avoid burnout and acknowledges that he needs to improve his consistency of play, saying of Tiger Woods “The level of intensity he displays is impressive as he can just turn it on. It’s something that I struggle to do sometimes”.
Rory McIlroy will have taken comfort from his recent best-of-tournament bogey-free 65 at the Cadillac Championship. McIlroy climbed from a tie for 50th at the end of the first day to the top 10 when he signed for his card and a 10-under-par total. McIlroy said afterwards "I was pretty down about my game coming into the week but a few days like this does my confidence the world of good "I thought a day like today was a long way away. That's one of my problems. When things are bad I always think things are further away than they are. I just have to let things happen and know that if I put in the hard work the results will come." Good news for McIlroy after the vulnerability he has shown over the winter, perhaps exacerbated by his lucrative shift to Nike clubs, most notably evidenced by his mid-round exit from the Honda Classic a few weeks ago.
McIlroy’s final tour outing before the Masters will be the Shell Houston Open and, assuming he makes the cut at Redstone, the 23-year-old will only have played 12 competitive rounds his year before his return to Augusta. Nonetheless, Rory McIlroy is second favourite to win the US Masters next month, with odds of 9/1 from bookmaker BetFred, behind Tiger Woods who is favourite at odds of 5/1 from Ladbrokes.
If Tiger were to win at Augusta, it would end his 7-year drought at the US Masters and provide his fifth Masters victory of his career. It would also mark a major turnaround for him after his disastrous performance in Augusta last year when a last-round 74 dropped him to five over par, with a 72-hole total of 293.