Tiger Woods seemed well on his way to reclaiming the world No. 1 ranking when dangerous thunderstorms hit Bay Hill Club on Sunday, forcing a premature halt to the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Woods had just expanded his lead to three shots over a quartet of players with a birdie on the par-3 second hole when horns blew at 2:03 p.m. ET, closing the course and sending golfers and spectators scurrying for shelter. After more than a two-hour suspension, tour officials canceled play for the day and rescheduled the rest of the finale for another Monday finish.
"With the rain we got, the golf course was gone, the bunkers were gone," Mark Russell, the PGA Tour’s VP of rules & competitions, told NBC.
Needing several hours to drain the course, Russell said there was no way to complete the work and get in more golf.
"We decided just to cancel play today," he said. "We’ll get finished tomorrow."
Strong winds, heavy rain, and lightning sparked a tornado warning and put a damper on a hot start by Woods, who would displace Rory McIlroy atop the world rankings with a win this week. A victory would also get Woods into a tie with Sam Snead for the most wins in one PGA Tour event -- eight -- and his 77th triumph would move him closer to Snead’s all-time tour wins total of 82.
Woods began the day two shots ahead of Rickie Fowler, John Huh, and Justin Rose, and quickly lengthened his advantage by canning a 10-foot birdie putt on the second hole. Seconds later, a violent thunderstorm with winds gusting to 62 mph blew through the course.
Six shots were all Woods needed to pad his lead over Fowler, Huh, Keegan Bradley, and Ken Duke.
"At least we got a little activity in today, so we're not completely stagnant," Woods told reporters before leaving the course. "We've dealt with this before."
Sunday’s postponement was just the latest in a string of weather oddities to strike the Tour this season. The Hyundai Tournament of Champions was almost the week that wasn’t, thanks to heavy rains and winds that delayed the start until Monday and resulted in a 54-hole event. A blizzard hindered the Accenture Match Play Championship.
In between, there was the pea-soup fog that forced a Monday close when Woods won the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in January -- the first of two Tour Ws so far in 2013 for the 14-time major champion.
For those keeping score at home, Woods picked up his eighth win at Torrey but they did not all come in the same event. His 2008 U.S. Open conquest came at the San Diego-area venue as well.
Also, while the Official World Golf Rankings generally change on Monday mornings, they don’t become official until all events for the week are finished, according to Golf Channel.com's Jason Sobel. So McIlroy may enjoy his perch atop the OWGR for just a little while longer should Woods emerge victorious.
And one more tidbit -- Woods is 51 for 55 when leading or sharing the lead in a tour event after 54 holes, and that includes winning 20 of the last 21.
Tiger will resume his quest for the top spot on the tee at No. 3 when play gets underway at 10 a.m. ET. Golf Channel will broadcast the action live through the tourney’s conclusion.