Rickie Fowler was only two shots behind Tiger Woods and hitting first on the par-five 16th hole at Bay Hill, and he was in the middle of the fairway. Woods, with whom he was playing in the final twosome, had driven into a bunker right of the fairway. NBC's Roger Maltbie said that Fowler "needs to hit one now," a good shot, that is, a very good shot to seize the moment.
"This is his opportunity," Maltbie added, as the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational neared its Monday conclusion after severe storms suspended play Sunday afternoon.
Fowler's shot from 179 yards landed just short of the red line marking the other side of the water hazard in front of the green. His ball rolled back into the water. Woods ripped his shot from the bunker into the middle of the green. Fowler hit his shot fat, " a bit heavy," he told his caddie. Woods caught his ball cleanly. His tongue was hanging out as he watched his ball fly into the heart of the green.
Up ahead, on the par-three 17th hole, Justin Rose needed to hit a timely shot and make a birdie to have any chance of catching Woods, who was going for his third win this year in only five tournaments, and his eighth at Bay Hill. Rose pulled his shot into the back bunker. He did get up and down for par, but his moment had passed.
Meanwhile, Fowler was on his way to making a confidence-killing big number at the 16th hole. He dropped his ball in the fairway 80 yards from the hole, and was now hitting his fourth shot to the green after taking the one-shot penalty for finding the hazard. He plopped that one in the water as well, and triple-bogied the hole. Woods's two-putt birdie put him six shots ahead of Fowler, just like that.
Golf's a brutal game, and Woods is a killer when it comes to holding a lead and taking it to the clubhouse. Earlier in the round he had hit an iron off the tee at the eighth hole. His ball finished right behind a thick tree. He dropped an F-bomb as soon as he saw its position. A youngster wasn't more than a few feet away, and had to hear Woods's reaction. NBC's Johnny Miller and Dan Hicks both commented on the single word that said so much. They weren't pleased. Hicks said Woods was playing better but needed to work on his vocabulary at certain moments. His diction was fine, his choice of words not so fine. But it was precise.
I mentioned Woods's F-bomb to my wife, and added that he had vowed to clean up his act. He's a role model, right? Well, maybe he's not. He's a golfer. No more. No less.
"He can't be what he isn't," Nell, a wise woman, said. Woods can't be what he's not. He wants to win so much. Things pop out. F-bombs pop out. John Prine sings, "You are what you are and you ain't what you ain't."
A couple of hours later, Woods hit an ideal shot into the middle of the par-three 17th hole, taking the water and the bunkers out of play. He had already taken everybody else out of the tournament, while they – Rose and Fowler in particular – had done an efficient job of also taking themselves out of the tournament. Woods went on to win, with Rose finishing two shots behind in second place.
Surprise, surprise. Right. Sure.
This doesn't mean that Woods played perfect golf. He had hit that errant tee shot at the eighth. He'd found a greenside bunker well short of the hole on the 14th, and missed an 11-foot par putt. He'd driven into the bunker on the 16th, and pushed his drive well right of the 18th fairway. Woods laid up from the rough, not needing to go for the green across the lake in front. He whipped his third on to the green and nearly made the long par putt.
Woods has now taken over the number one position in the world ranking, for the 11th time in his amazing career. He had fallen as far as 58th, but he always said he was moving in the right direction. He's now won six of his last 20 PGA Tour events, for a ridiculous 30 per cent win percentage. He's won 77 PGA Tour events, including 14 majors. His next tournament will be the Masters, which starts April 11th.
"I'm very pleased with the way I'm playing," Woods told Golf Channel's Steve Sands after Arnold Palmer congratulated him and they shook hands behind the 18th green.
Woods will work for the next two weeks on the shots he believes he'll need to win his first Masters since 2005, and his fifth overall.
His chances look good.
RELATED LINK: More blogs from Lorne Rubenstein
Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association's first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada's Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round's on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf's Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein