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March 25. 2013 9:00PM

Woods wins, returns to golf's pinnacle


Tiger Woods, left, shares a laugh with golf legend Arnold Palmer after he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational PGA golf tournament in Orlando, Fla. Monday. (REUTERS/Scott Miller)

ORLANDO, Fla. - No matter what day it is, it's always Sunday to Tiger Woods when he's sniffing a title.

Woods won the Arnold Palmer Invitational on a Monday after storms delayed the final round - but not Tiger's climb back to the golfing mountaintop.

"I think he plays every shot like he plays them on Sunday," said Justin Rose, the runner-up.

Tiger fired a two-under 70 for a 275 total to defend his title, beating Rose by two shots and four third-place finishers by five strokes.

With his eighth victory at Bay Hill, Woods reclaimed the world No. 1 ranking for the first time since 2010, won for the third time this season and rediscovered his awe-inspiring dominance two weeks before the Masters.

Pick any day of the week, any climate, any course now.

"His intensity is the same on Thursday often as it is on Sunday, and that makes Sunday a lot less different for him," Rose continued.

"He plays in that kind of atmosphere far more regularly than a lot of guys do. It's an adjustment for most of us. It's a known for him."

Sounds as if Rose and the rest of the field feel like their predecessors did when Tiger, now 37, ruled the game in his youth.

Brash Rickie Fowler, 24, was Woods' playing partner for the final round. He thought he had a chance to upset Woods, who had built a three-shot lead after play was halted Sunday afternoon.

Woods wasn't seriously challenged until Fowler pulled within two after he birdied 14.

Then on the 511-yard, par 5 16th hole, Fowler imploded to end any suspense. He hit two balls in the water to finish with a triple-bogey while Tiger birdied out of a bunker, the six-shot swing leaving Woods free and clear.

Woods has built an emotional blockade with all his experience. When Fowler hit a birdie putt on No. 12 to apply some pressure, Tiger simply matched it, showing how his putter has helped his resurgence from injuries and a personal crisis. And to think, he was just trying to get the putt close and not make a telling mistake.

"It ended up being a nice putt to make, but I certainly wasn't trying to make it," Woods said. "I was just trying to make sure I didn't run it past the hole."

Woods reminded Fowler that he was - er, is - the game's greatest closer, pushing his record to 42-2 when he carries the outright lead into the final round.

Woods held his putter over his head to acknowledge the fans after his win, greeting Palmer off the 18th green. His eighth win at Bay Hill tied a record set by Sam Snead for most victories at a single tournament.

Arnie said he sees Tiger's eight wins here remaining in the record books for a while.

"I don't really see anybody touching it for a long time," Palmer said. "I had the opportunity to win a tournament five times, and I knew how difficult that was."

Said Woods, "There are certain events that are more special when you have Arnold Palmer on the 18th green or you have Jack (Nicklaus) at the Memorial. ... It's special to be able to walk off the 18th green and see these guys there.

"They're living legends of the game."

Woods is a living legend, too. But he hasn't won a major in five years, still four wins away from tying Nicklaus' all-time record of 18.

Maybe Tiger is back to chasing history in earnest - and everyone else is back to chasing him.

"I'm getting there," he said.

And it doesn't really matter if it's a marquee Sunday - or a make-up Monday.


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