PALM HARBOR, FL – MARCH 09: Tiger Woods catches a ball on the 17th hole during the second round of the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Resort Copperhead Course March 9, 2018 in Palm Harbor, Florida. Sam Greenwood/Getty Images/AFP
Tiger Woods seeks an unprecedented ninth triumph at the Arnold Palmer Invitational starting Thursday, the 14-time major champion hoping to find top form on one of his favorite courses.
The 42-year-old American, coming off a runner-up effort last week at the Valspar Championship, enters his last tuneup for next month’s Masters after his best result in nearly five years and showing no signs of the back injuries that have haunted prior comebacks.
“Just keep getting better,” Woods said of his goals for the week. “Just keep making incremental improvements and I think I’ve done that. Each and every week I’ve learned from what I’ve done and more importantly I’m learning my body. I’m learning how I can swing it and not swing it.
“My recovery, these are all things that are new. So I’m still learning, I’m getting a lot better at it, which is nice and I think that you’re starting to see the fruits of that now of the little tweaks I’ve made and I’m excited about it.”
Woods, a winner eight times in 17 starts at Bay Hill, last won on the Orlando layout in 2013. He recall being greeted at the 18th green by tournament namesake legend Palmer, who died in 2016.
“To be able to win this tournament and to have Arnold there and to shake his hand and for him to give me a big hug and a couple times he says, ‘I called it, I knew you were going to make that putt’ — little things like that, the last sharing jokes with him out there on the green and he and I laughing — those are moments that unfortunately I’ll never have (again). But I have those memories.”
Woods has 79 US PGA Tour titles, three shy of Sam Snead’s all-time record, and his major win total remains four short of the record 18 won by Jack Nicklaus.
Woods has not won a major title since the 2008 US Open, but he has won four times at Augusta National, where he will tee off in three weeks seeking another major crown.
This week, he also knows the course but will need to become reacqauinted with some details.
“Just because I won here eight times doesn’t mean I’m going to win this week automatically. I still got to do the work. I still got to go through the process of getting myself in position,” Woods said.
“But I understand this golf course. I’ve played it under so many different varying conditions. I’ve got to do some serious homework and really get to know and get the feel of how this golf course is playing this particular year, considering I haven’t played here in five years.”
Woods finds himself eager to get back into the competitive hunt at the Masters, where he has played only once since 2013, nabbing a share of 17th three years ago.
“Very eager,” Woods said, “I feel like I’m physically able to do it again and it’s going to be a lot of fun. There’s no other tournament like it. It has a deep place in my heart.
“From the time I was there as an amateur to my first win and to my other wins there as well, I just love playing Augusta National.”