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Can Tiger Woods replace Rory McIlroy at the top of the world?

By Kevin Garside

Tiger Woods could be no.1 twice over come Sunday, top of the world golf rankings as well as the affections of Lindsey Vonn. The Facebook confirmation of Woods’s romance with the snow queen of American sport contradicts his self-imposed privacy policy. “I never talk about my private life” is a familiar refrain on the golf courses of the world, rendered ridiculous by the online revelation of true love shared with billions.


Thus in one click has Woods invited all manner of queries when he addresses the media ahead of his defence of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. This is where, a year ago, Woods claimed his first victory since the sex scandal that shattered his marriage in November 2009. He has won four times since, twice this year, including his last outing at the WGC-Cadillac Championship in Miami, where he spent the week with Vonn on his yacht ‘Privacy’.

The formal announcement of a relationship on the Monday of a tournament was entirely by design. In the thinking of Woods it gets an awkward detail out of the way. The story will be 48 hours old by the time he is confronted by a microphone, at which point he will refer the honourable gentlemen to his Facebook page and return to the subject of chipping and putting, arguably more interesting than his skiing clinics with Vonn, and certainly of more significance.

Woods was impressive in posting his 76th PGA Tour win at Doral, where a putting lesson from his old chum Steve Stricker led to the best display of his career on the greens. A minimalist 100 putts over 72 holes kept Woods two shots clear of the pack, ironically led by Stricker. A repeat at Bay Hill, a tournament he has won seven times, would see Woods supplant Rory McIlroy at the top of the rankings for the first time since October 2010.

The field along the Florida Coast is only marginally shallower than Miami, and includes the returning Brandt Snedeker, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Justin Rose and Lee Westwood, all sharpening games ahead of the Masters next month.

Another on an upward curve is Luke Donald, whose fourth place in Tampa last week was his best of the year. Donald has migrated half way across the world to contest the Malaysian Open, a journey  he made light of on setting foot at the Kuala Lumpa Golf and Country Club. “Any time you have a 12-hour time difference there's a bit of adjusting to do, but I've never really had a problem with jetlag in the past,” Donald said. “I’ve travelled a lot as a golfer and that has certainly helped me become a global player, learning how to deal with different courses, different grasses and different types of competition.”

The appearance fee and the ticking of a European Tour box on his schedule offer some compensation for the right field hike during the build-up to Augusta. Donald has two weeks to resume sleeping patterns on the America clock, and besides, his chance of a first victory since Wentworth last May is, perhaps, a good enough reason to experience Malaysian hospitality.     

“The results in my first couple of events weren’t as I’d have liked, but last week there was a lot of improvement,” he said. “I’ve felt a lot more comfortable with my game and a lot more in control of the golf ball. I came up a little short in the end, but the game feels like it’s trending in the right direction. We’ve got the Masters in a few weeks’ time and I’m excited about that.”

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