You need to be a huge golf fan to camp around a television to watch complete 18-hole coverage. Back in the day, fans of Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer would either show up to weekly events or push up television ratings when those two were in contention.
Two decades ago, Tiger Woods rose to the level of Palmer and Nicklaus and remained there for more than 15 years. Those who were invested in the game watched, while those with only a passing interest, just to join in the conversation, would ask “how did Tiger do?”
During his heyday Woods would boom drives; leave iron shots within inches of the hole for birdie or even eagle; hoist bunker shots to within inches of the hole – or in the hole – and make ridiculous putts resulting in the famous Woods’ celebration of two fists thrust into the air.
It had been five years since witnessing all of that, along with the circus following him around the golf course. His injuries and fall from grace in his personal life, which relegated him to afterthought status, kept him in the media for all the wrong reasons.
That all changed last weekend, when the former Windermere resident came up just a stroke short at the Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor. The Sunday crowd was going out of their collective minds as Woods chased eventual winner Paul Casey down to the final putt on the last hole.
He brought back the memories of doing those Tiger-like things by sinking a 41-foot birdie putt on the penultimate hole. Unlike before, his reaction was more measured while the crowd made enough noise for passengers on departing cruise ships to hear.
On Thursday, the resurrected Tiger-mania moved up I-4 to Bay Hill for the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a tournament he has won an astounding 8 times. With last week’s performance, the expectations were high, which Woods tried to temper.
“Just because I won here eight times doesn’t mean I’m going to win this week automatically,” he said during a Tuesday press conference. “I’ve still got to do the work. I’ve still got to go through the process of getting myself in position. But I understand this golf course.”
Step one of getting into position is complete and it was a rousing success. To the delight of the crowd, Woods fired a four-under-par 68 to finish the first day tied for 7th, four strokes off the lead held by Henrik Stenson.
After a three-under front 9, Woods whacked his drive on the 12th out of play and wound up with a double-bogey 6. The Tiger of old would bounce back from adversity and so did the Tiger of 2018.
He came back with birdies at 13 and 15, then provided the highlight of the day. As a curling 71-foot birdie putt on 16 dropped into the cup, Woods offered only a smile of seeming disbelief while everyone around him went crazy.
“My dad always told me, ‘Just putt to the picture,'” he later said. “And I was asking for it to bite as it came over that knob, it was a little too hot and it had to crash in the hole.”
He had to make an 11-footer on the final hole to save par, setting the stage for round two on Friday. Another round like Thursday’s will have the weekend crowd ready to holler.
Bay Hill will be rocking.