BonkMarch 28, 2009

Familiar Script

No, this was not a repeat, Thomas Bonk says. On Sunday at Bay Hill, it was just Tiger Woods doing what he does best

As Sunday proved yet again, Tiger Woods has the 72nd hole celebration down to an art form.

As Sunday proved yet again, Tiger Woods has the 72nd hole celebration down to an art form.

ORLANDO -- He hit the putt. He watched the ball roll toward the hole. He took four quick steps backward. He had flashbulbs glow in his face. He saw the ball disappear. He threw a punch in the air. He pumped his fist. He heard the crowd roar.

That's the Tiger Woods way, golf's biggest hit play, one with flair and passion and the weight of history all around.

It's once again fashionable to wear red on Sunday, Woods reminded us one more time on a long day at Bay Hill Club and Lodge, where he overcame Sean O'Hair's five-shot lead and won the Arnold Palmer Invitational for the sixth time with a birdie on the last hole.

As far as distance goes, the ball rolled 16 feet and disappeared at about the same time as the daylight.

As far as drama goes, Woods laid it on pretty thick, but only if you consider the proportions of it all: A comeback that matched his biggest, a birdie on the last hole as night crowded out the day, a victory in his third tournament since returning to play after knee surgery, a signal that he's back in charge.

Woods closed with a three-under 67, won for the 66th time on the PGA Tour, set himself up as the favorite for the Masters and produced a body of theatrics that was grand even by his own lofty standards.

Tied with O'Hair after 17 holes, Woods had just made a bogey at the 217-yard 17th when he knocked it into a bunker. O'Hair, who finished with a 73, could only stand silently on the 18th green and serve as a witness to the Woods act . . . the four steps backwards, the ball dropping into the hole, the punch at the air and the fist pump.

O'Hair probably deserved better, but he also should have played better. One birdie on the day didn't get it done. But O'Hair doesn't like the notion that Woods is the only actor on the stage and everyone else is just a prop.

"It's not like it's the Tiger Show and I'm just out there to watch him," O'Hair said. "We're trying to win golf tournaments and he just happens to be that good."

O'Hair's five-shot lead was down to one after 10 holes and Woods was charging. The world's No. 1 player knocked it to three feet and birdied the par-3 second and after a 305-yard drive, Woods stopped the ball six feet from the pin at the third, leading to another birdie.

There was a two-shot swing at the 179-yard 7th when Woods rolled in a six-footer for birdie while O'Hair made a bogey.

For a seven-hole stretch, from the 8th through the 14th, Woods was quietly churning out pars. At the 14th, Woods was in another bunker, but managed to save par when he came up with a crucial 13-foot par. Woods caught up with O'Hair at the 15th, where he rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt.

Woods can conjure up magical moments like no one else, but he was saving his best stuff.

He took the lead for the first time in the tournament on the 16th hole. O'Hair put his second shot in the water while Woods saved par when he laid up, then knocked his third shot off a mound on the green and rolled the ball to within three feet of the hole. Woods had bogeyed the 18th on Saturday when he actually lost his ball in a muddy bank, so when he drove it on the fairway this time and then put the ball on a narrow strip on the green below the hole, he was only minutes away from doing something special again.

The putt drops, the crowd roars, Tiger wins, see you at Augusta.

The world is spinning the right way once again for Woods.

"It's great to feel the heat again."

Palmer, who was waiting at the side of the green, hugged Woods as he walked by. Woods smiled broadly.

Almost five hours after he began, and after a rain delay of nearly two hours, Woods was finally back where he feels the most comfortable: in the spotlight, in the awards ceremony, holding up a trophy.