Woods justifies favourite tag with impressive start to Arnold Palmer Invitational
Woods won at Bay Hill on his last appearance in 2013.
Tiger Woods justified his position as pre-tournament favourite with an impressive start to the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Thursday.
Woods is seeking a record ninth victory at Bay Hill in just his fifth PGA Tour event since undergoing spinal fusion surgery in April 2017, his fourth back operation in the space of three years.
The 42-year-old finished second to England’s Paul Casey in the Valspar Championship on Sunday and carried on where he left off in Orlando with an opening 68 to lie one shot off the early clubhouse lead held by Jimmy Walker, who holed his second shot to the 18th for a closing eagle.
After starting from the 10th, Woods birdied the 12th, 13th and 16th to reach the turn in 33, but looked to have undone most of his good work with a wild tee shot on the third hole which finished up entangled in a mesh fence and was deemed out of bounds.
The former world number one appeared unhappy with the ruling as he took the headcover off his fairway wood and threw it behind him before making the lonely walk back to the tee, from where his third shot also sailed right.
A superb fourth shot cut around a tree found the edge of the green, but two putts from long range added up to a double-bogey six.
The smile was quickly back on the 14-time major winner’s face as he birdied the fourth and sixth, both par fives, and it remained firmly in place as he followed a poor tee shot on the par-three seventh by holing from 70 feet for an unlikely birdie.
Woods also holed from 11 feet for par on the ninth, his final hole, after finding a greenside bunker with his approach and is now vying for favouritism for the Masters with world number one Dustin Johnson.
Patrick Reed, who bogeyed the 72nd hole in the Valspar Championship to miss out on a play-off with Casey, was alongside Woods on four under, with England’s Justin Rose a shot behind after a remarkable fightback.
Rose was four over par after his first six holes, but birdied seven of the next 10 to card an opening 69.
Woods, whose last tournament victory came in the 2013 Bridgestone Invitational, told Sky Sports: “I’ve gotten the feel of playing tournament rounds.
“That just took time and patience and I’m scoring now – I know where to miss it, I don’t really have to think that much and I’m going out there and doing it.
“Today all four par fives were reachable if you drove the ball in play. I tugged it a little bit left on 12 but the other par fives I handled well, all irons into the greens.”
Speaking about his lengthy birdie putt on the seventh, Woods added: “It was coming over that hill a little too quick. I was just trying to lag it down there, just make my par and get outta here and it had a crash at the hole, which I’m not complaining about, and it went in.”