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New World Order: Little luck involved in Tiger's seven Bay Hill victories

by | CBSSports.com Senior Golf Columnist

Following outings for the Tavistock Cup this week, Woods will seek his eighth win at Bay Hill. (AP)  
Following outings for the Tavistock Cup this week, Woods will seek his eighth win at Bay Hill. (AP)  

ORLANDO, Fla. -- For years, Tiger Woods lived just across the lake from the Bay Hill Club & Lodge, so spatially close he probably could have made the swim faster than taking surface streets in his vehicle. On a Jet Ski, it would have taken five minutes, max, and he could have parked at the dock outside Arnold Palmer's lakefront condo.

During most of the 16 years he lived at Isleworth, a private club built by Palmer, Woods lived on Deacon Circle, which happens to be named after Palmer's father.

So, given the connection with the King, be it geographical or otherwise, it's no surprise many of Woods' most astounding victories have come at Bay Hill.

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Woods this week will seek to win for the eighth time as either a pee-wee or a pro at Bay Hill, site of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and the images of many of those victories remain seared into the minds of anybody with a television set.

Three times, Woods has birdied the difficult 18th to record a walk-off, one-shot win, but that triumphant trio doesn't begin to tell the whole story, much less guarantee they rank as the most impressive victories the former world No. 1 has logged at Arnie's Place.

In fact, had Woods not won the 1991 U.S. Junior Amateur at Bay Hill, the first of six consecutive USGA titles he'd amass as a beanpole-thin teen before turning pro, who knows if the professional output would have been quite the same.

At Bay Hill or elsewhere.

So as the PGA Tour preps for its annual Florida migration to Palmer's winter hangout, here's our entirely subjective, ridiculously stilted and unapologetically skewed look at where his seven wins rank in terms of circus atmosphere, importance and impressiveness. Because while those walk-off wins make for great SportsCenter highlights, tournaments are more than just a 10-second video clip.

March Madness is a copyrighted term ascribed to a certain college basketball tournament this month, but Woods has authored so many marches with madcap endings at Bay Hill, they are worth revisiting -- and ranking.

1. Gutting It Out
2003 Bay Hill Invitational
Winning score: 19 under
Forget winning the tournament title four years in a row from 2000-03. It was the final date on that Arnold Slam that was most impressive. In a weird week, Woods' future wife, Elin Nordegren, fainted outside the locker room and was taken off for medical treatment, the victim of a stomach bug that was making the rounds. Woods caught the same virus the night before the final round and had to be taken to a local hospital for intravenous fluids. When he showed up Sunday, staked to a five-shot lead, and still fighting the dry heaves, he not only retained his 54-hole margin in a spitting rainstorm, he pulled away and won by an incredible 11 strokes. In a flashpoint display of grit, despite sore abdominal muscles from a night of purging, Woods blasted two monstrous shots onto the par-5 fourth hole green, made an eagle and pulled away with a closing 68. Game over. "If I wasn't in contention, I wouldn't have [played]," Woods said. "Every single shot hurt. ... The night was long, and the day was probably longer." Only years later, when Woods won the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg, did he perform more impressively when under physical distress.

2. Reverse Rallying
1991 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship
Winning score: 1 up
Before Woods made a name as the closer of all closers at U.S. Golf Association events, he faced a kid named Brad Zwetschke and had to forge that reputation for the first time. It wasn't easy. Woods won the first of three U.S. Junior titles at Bay Hill, then reeled off three U.S. Amateur titles, but that streak almost didn't happen when Woods very nearly handed the match to Zwetschke, who birdied three of the first five holes. As he would for years to come, Woods rallied, and by the 17th, Zwetschke had taken off his glove as Woods faced a short putt to close out the match. Woods missed, then cranked his tee shot on the 18th into the cabins down the left side of the hole, out of bounds, losing the hole. After a lengthy rain delay, Woods won on the first extra hole with a bogey, "setting the dynasty in motion," as a national magazine put it. As for where it ranked in his development, it was easily his biggest victory at that point in his career. "Oh, no doubt," Woods said years later. Said Zwetschke: "He was long, he was a clutch putter, his short game was fantastic. Even at that young age, his discipline, his practice routine, his swing, they were all there." Woods had found one of his favorite stages, too, though nobody remotely knew it at the time.

3. An O'Hair-Razing Finish
2009 Arnold Palmer Invitational
Winning score: 5 under
It's become hard to track all of Woods' various comebacks these days, as the injuries and personal issues have piled up and become a bit blurry. But after undergoing massive knee reconstruction in mid-2008, Woods came back in early March the following season as something of a question mark. He didn't contend in his first two starts before tooling into Bay Hill, where he was paired with Sean O'Hair in the final round. O'Hair, taught at the time by a swing coach who would later become Woods' teacher, Sean Foley, blew a five-shot lead. On the 18th, Woods faced a birdie putt that would, for the third time in a decade at Bay Hill, deliver a victory. Somebody in the gallery yelled, "Playoff." Woods wanted no such delays and drained the 12-footer putt, going into yet another spontaneous victory dance as Palmer beamed. The King loves it when big boys like Woods, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh win on his track, and this had him over the moon. "Not much question, was there?" Palmer said of the putt dropping. "It's happened every time. The only question was, this time, it went in the side, instead of the middle." The five-stroke reversal equaled Woods' largest comeback after three rounds, matching the personal mark he set in 2000 at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am. "I don't think I've ever seen him make a putt when he really needed it," said Zach Johnson, the third member of Woods' group. "And that was the epitome of sarcasm."

4. Defining Tiger Moment
2008 Arnold Palmer Invitational
Winning score: 10 under
There have been fist pumps, yelps of delight, exhortations of a rather R-rated nature and other celebratory antics as Woods has piled up his 71 PGA Tour wins over the years. But has there ever been a victory celebration like the one Woods unleashed on the 72nd hole in 2008? Needing to hole a diving 24-footer to win on the last, Woods coaxed the ball in, did an end-zone slam dunk of his cap to the turf and all but floated into the arms of his caddie at the time, Steve Williams. Palmer, who had seen Woods make a nearly identical putt to win in 2001, stood near and watched, interested, impressed and as amused as ever. "What else is new?" the King said to Woods afterward. The spontaneous celebration was used in TV this year by Palmer's marketing folks, and it never fails to generate smiles. It was Woods' third straight win to open 2008, which would end with a victory at the U.S. Open and knee surgery that followed. The 24-footer represented the first time in seven years Woods had won with a birdie on the 72nd hole, dating back to the 2001 Palmer event.

5. Winning by a Neck
2001 Bay Hill Invitational
Winning score: 15 under
Just a couple of weeks before he would win the Masters and become the first man to hold all four Grand Slam titles simultaneously, Woods arrived at Bay Hill having not won in his previous five starts. Apparently, talk of a perceived "slump" annoyed him. Woods took the 54-hole lead but was uncharacteristically sloppy in the final round and was pressed, hard, by nemesis Phil Mickelson, who actually led on the back nine and made a miraculous par save at the 18th. Woods nearly yanked his ball out of bounds on the 16th, but made a birdie to pull even with Lefty, then stood on the 18th tee, where he very nearly repeated what he had done against Zwetschke exactly a decade earlier. Woods hit another looping hook, but it bounced and hit a spectator in the neck, saving it from going out of bounds. After barely hanging on all day, Woods took a free drop from a cart path, then hit his best shot of the week, a stinging 5-iron from a patchy lie that landed 15 feet from the cup. He holed the birdie putt for a 69 and a one-shot win over Mickelson, who had thoroughly outplayed him with a 66. "It was not a pretty round of golf, but I got the ball in the hole," Woods said. "It's always nice to win." It was also the first of the three now-legendary winning birdies on the 18th, an indelible part of Woods lore.

6. No Trouble With Treble
2002 Bay Hill Invitational
Winning score: 13 under
At this point, the historians were working overtime to try to catalog the feats that Woods had achieved over the arc of his brief professional career. At the end of the 2001 season, Woods had won at Memorial and Firestone, making it three consecutive victories at both well-regarded venues. He came to Bay Hill in March of 2002 seeking to make it three in a row in his hometown, too. No other player had won three straight events three straight times in the same stretch, and Woods had to fend off perhaps the toughest array of star power at any of his six Bay Hill victories. Among those within three shots of the Sunday lead were superstars Els, Mickelson, Singh and Sergio Garcia. Mickelson famously seized the lead on the back nine, but gambled on the 16th with a reckless shot from the trees that found the water. While many carved up Mickelson for trying to hit the hero shot that in some ways has defined his persona, Woods ended up cruising to a four-stroke victory. At the end, it was trademark Woods -- the other guys made the mistakes while he kept his wits, and trophies, around him.

7. In the Beginning
2000 Bay Hill Invitational
Winning score: 18 under
The first of his six professional wins at Palmer's Place was rather anticlimactic. Woods held a two-shot lead over Davis Love, who bogeyed two of his first three holes in the final round to give Woods more than enough cushion for an easy victory march to the clubhouse. It was Woods' first win at Bay Hill, but perspective is the bigger part of the picture. It was his third of a career-best nine victories on the year, which included wins in the final three major championships. Woods closed with a 70, doing exactly what was required and little else to seal a four-stroke Bay Hill win that had little drama down the stretch. "I had the lead," Woods said. "I figured I could put pressure on Davis by hitting a lot of fairways and greens. I feel pretty good about my short game right now."


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