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Tiger Roars at Bay Hill
For the first time in a remarkably barren - for him - run of 923 days, 30 months and over 100 tournaments, Tiger Woods nailed down a victory on the PGA Tour. And on a day when the golf course - Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando - played tough, Woods held his game together, closing with a 2-under-par 70 to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational by five strokes.
After four birdies and a bogey on the front nine, Woods - the 54-hole leader - carded a bogey and a steady eight pars on the inward half to finish at 13-under 275, five strokes ahead of playing partner, Graeme McDowell, who shot a 2-over 74.
The win, the 72nd of his illustrious career, was the first for Woods since the 2009 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. It was also his record seventh title at Bay Hill.
After his tap-in par putt dropped on the 18th, Woods elicited a huge smile, yelled in celebration and waved to the crowd before giving his caddie, Joe LaCava, an emotional hug. As Woods walked triumphantly off the green, the big crowd chanted "Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!"
Woods, who earned $1.08 million, posted rounds of 69, 65, 71 and 70, shooting under-par scores in all four rounds for the first time since the 2010 Masters.
"This feels real good, it feels really good," he said during a greenside interview. "The conditions were tough. These pins - Arnie took it to us today.
"I'm so thankful for all the people who helped along the way," he added. As for the fans' vocal backing, he noted, "It was incredible to have so much support today."
As for what the win means for his chances in the Masters Tournament at Augusta National in two weeks, Woods said, "I'm excited - it's always fun to go there, go play. All the things that I've worked on are coming together at the right time."
"He was a man on a mission today," said LaCava. "He was pretty jacked up. He was out there to prove himself."
For McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champion, it was his second runner-up finish at Bay Hill, with his other coming in 2005. The 32-year-old Northern Irishman had a wild day at blustery Orlando. He began with a double-bogey on the par-4 first, then got a birdie on No. 3, an eagle on the sixth and a bogey on the ninth to make the turn in even-par-36. On the back, McDowell carded a birdie and three bogeys for a 38.
"I just never really got close enough to (Woods) today," McDowell told PGA Tour Radio. "Not going to be disappointed in any way about today. I got beaten by the better man today."
England's Ian Poulter finished in solo third at 282 after a 74, while Ryan Moore (70), Brian Davis (70), Bubba Watson (72), Bud Cauley (72), Kevin Na (73), Johnson Wagner (74) and Ernie Els (75) shared fourth at 283.
Els failed to gain a spot in the Masters with his T-4, needing a have a two-way second-place finish to get into the top-50 in the World Golf Ranking. He now needs to win next week's Houston Open to guarantee himself a trip to Augusta and a place in a tournament he hasn't missed since first playing the Masters in 1994.
Jim Furyk (70), Trevor Immelman (71), Tim Herron (71) and Zach Johnson (73) ended up sharing 11th at 4-under 284. Immelman (2008) and Johnson (2007) are former winners of the Masters.
Defending champion Martin Laird of Scotland carded his second straight over-par round. After a 74 Saturday, the 29-year-old closed with a 76.
For all the scores in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, visit http://www.pgatour.com/leaderboards/current/r009/.