Tiger Woods returns to action this week to his own private playground, rested and ready to conquer Arnie’s Bay Hill for the eighth time, with golf’s top ranking just a win away, and with an officially anointed new member of Team Tiger on his side.
Golf’s other power couples -- Rory McIlroy/Caroline Wozniacki and Dustin Johnson/Paulina Gretzky -- have nothing on Tiger Woods/Lindsey Vonn ("Woodsey?") and the golf-playing half of each duo will be otherwise occupied as Woods seeks to defend his 2012 Arnold Palmer Invitational title and leapfrog Rory Mac for the No. 1 spot in golf.
Woods enters the tourney fresh from his victory 10 days ago at Doral and Monday’s close encounters of the social media kind, in which he confirmed via Twitter and Facebook that he and his Olympic golf medalist girlfriend were, indeed, an item.
Who knows what impact, if any, going public about his relationship will have on the game of a golfer who makes a sport of keeping the public at arm’s length? One thing’s for certain, though, and that is that Woods is the odds-on favorite to go back-to-back in The King’s backyard.
Tiger has won seven of his 76 tour wins on the Orlando track, and that includes last year’s triumph that marked his first W in some 30 months. His record at Bay Hill is as other-worldly as his mystical aura was back in the days when Tiger played like, well, eerily like the Tiger who’s won twice in four tour events in 2013.
Woods ended his winless skid with a decisive five-shot rout of Graeme McDowell, his nearest competitor last year. Another success on the 7,419 yards, par 72 circuit would tie Sam Snead for most tour victories in the same event and would knock McIlroy down a rung on the rankings ladder.
The defending champion will have to overcome a stalwart field that includes McDowell as well as Brandt Snedeker, who will return after a five-week break to nurse a rib injury; fifth-ranked Justin Rose; 10th-ranked Phil Mickelson; and last week's first-time winner Kevin Streelman. The money, however, is on Woods to bring No. 77 (and No. 1) home to Vonn.
After all, Bay Hill may be Arnie’s turf but it’s practically a home field for the former Orlando resident.
“For some reason, just fits my eye,” Woods said during last year’s tilt on the 52-year-old layout that Palmer purchased in 1970. “I just feel comfortable on this golf course.”