Tiger back to winning

Posted: Monday, March 19, 2001

ORLANDO, Fla. -- No more talk about a slump, just more stories about the amazing feats of Tiger Woods.

Erratic with his driver to the very end, Woods recovered with two brilliant shots that set up birdies, including a 15-footer on the final hole to beat hard-charging Phil Mickelson by one stroke and win the Bay Hill Invitational on Sunday.

''It's always nice to win,'' Woods said. ''It was not a pretty round of golf, but I got the ball in the hole. I was able to get some wonderful breaks down the stretch.''

Woods closed with a 3-under 69 and became only the second player to repeat as Bay Hill champion. More importantly, it was his first victory of the year in seven tournaments, the longest he ever has gone without winning to start a season.

It wasn't easy, and Woods needed some luck.

Mickelson had a 6-under 66, making back-to-back birdies to take the lead from Woods and then hanging on with a 60-yard pitch shot to within a couple of inches to save par on the 18th hole.

Woods, who hit only two fairways on the back nine, appeared to be in trouble on No. 16, a par 5 easily reachable in two, when he hooked his drive left of the bunker and about 4 feet away from the out-of-bounds fence.

One stroke behind, with the final two holes into the wind, Woods went for the green and it paid off. His 7-iron came out high and long, clearing the pond and hopping up to the back shelf for a two-putt birdie from 35 feet.

Woods had little choice but to hit driver on the 18th, and pulled it badly. It appeared to be heading out of bounds until it hit a spectator in the neck and dropped next to the cart path. A woman picked up the ball and immediately dropped it -- maybe the Nike swoosh and the word ''Tiger'' stamped on the ball gave her a clue.

Woods got a free drop, anyway, because his feet were on the cart path.

One putt away from putting an end to questions about what's wrong with his game, Woods didn't waste the opportunity. The putt was true to the end, breaking gently from left to right.

Woods let out a roar, drowned out by thousands of spectators crammed around the green, and pumped his fist three times before giving a high-five to caddie Steve Williams.

Woods, who finished at 15-under 273, earned $630,000 for his 25th career victory in just his 96th start on the PGA Tour. Until this year, the longest he had gone without winning to start the year was five tournaments when he turned pro as a 20-year-old in 1996. Woods was in control until his biggest mistake of the round, hitting a 2-iron off the tee on the 438-yard 11th hole, into the wind. He left himself 222 yards to the green, missed it left and had an impossible chip.

''How stupid was that?'' Woods muttered to himself just off the green. He made bogey to fall back to 12 under and into a tie for the lead with Mickelson.

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