Arnold Palmer Invitational 2013: Healthy Brandt Snedeker hopes for Sunday tilt with Tiger Woods

Ross Kinnaird

Tiger Woods has usurped Brandt Snedeker’s unofficial title as the hottest player on tour, but this year’s winner at Pebble Beach is on the prowl after returning from a five-week stint on the DL.

Tiger Woods will put his 2012 Arnold Palmer Invitational title on the line when he tees it up with Ernie Els and Justin Rose on Thursday and Friday at Bay Hill.

With a chance to reclaim the No. 1 ranking within reach as well after two wins in his first four PGA Tour events, Woods has already overtaken the formerly hottest player on tour, Brandt Snedeker. The 2012 FedEx champion, returning after a five-week layoff to rest an injured rib, said he would not concern himself with regaining bragging rights just yet.

“I could care less about getting it back,” Snedeker said, referring to his pre-injury standing as Best in Show after his win at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and three additional top-three finishes. “I just want to get myself in position to have a good weekend again. I am not playing anywhere near as well as Tiger Woods is right now. So we can go ahead and answer that question and get that out of the way. He's playing unbelievable golf.”

Snedeker, who has has battled injuries for several years, including a strained intercostal muscle that irked him during his two-shot win at Pebble last month, gave Woods his due. He would, however, certainly relish a final-round showdown for first place with the guy who would reclaim golf’s top spot with a victory.

“I'd love to see [Woods] on Sunday afternoon and see how I stack up against him,” Snedeker told reporters on Tuesday ahead of this week's Arnold Palmer Invitational. “He's playing unbelievable. He's sharp right now. I've got to develop that again. Hopefully, I can do it in the next couple days.”

Snedeker strained the muscle on the left side of his ribs during his successful run at Pebble and determined he would not rush back for fear of missing the Masters in April. A cracked rib in 2012 put him on the shelf for the U.S. Open.

"That was really tough for me to sit there and watch that because that was a place I really wanted to play," Snedeker said, recalling the missed start at The Olympic Club.

“This is an injury you don't want to try to play through because it can get worse,” Snedeker added. “The Masters is something that you don't want to miss due to an injury. I'm glad I'm back, but the Masters was a concern."

Pronouncing himself fully recovered, Snedeker said he was excited to play at Bay Hill and had added next week’s Shell Houston Open to his pre-Masters tune-up as well. He will start his comeback with Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia at 12:45 p.m. on No. 1 on Thursday (8:05 a.m., No. 10 on Friday).

Woods, for his part, will play alongside another of the walking wounded in Els. The reigning British Open champ will return to action after a week of his own in the MASH unit with a nagging right hip problem. The duo, plus Rose, will start on No. 10 at 8:05 a.m. on Thursday and kick off Friday’s second round at 12:45 p.m off the first tee.

Directly behind the Woods party will be last year’s runner-up Graeme McDowell, 2012 European Ryder Cup hero Ian Poulter, and 2011 PGA champ Keegan Bradley. The threesome was slated to shove off at 8:16 a.m. and 12:56 p.m.

Another marquee grouping in the robust field featuring four of the world’s top 10 will include two reigning major champions, Masters winner Bubba Watson and U.S. Open victor Webb Simpson. They and Bill Haas will start on the first tee on Thursday at 12:56 p.m. (8:16 a.m./No. 10 on Friday).

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