Tiger Woods roared back into the winners’ circle by winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill by five shots over Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell.
The American had gone 924 days and 27 full PGA Tour events without lifting a trophy since taking a break from golf following the revelations over his extra-marital affairs.
Woods began the day with the one-shot lead over McDowell and shot a round of 70, which included four birdies all coming on the front nine. By then he had a four-shot lead and never looked back.
It was the 16th time in his career that Woods has won by at least five shots, and it was the largest margin of victory on the PGA Tour since Rory McIlroy won the U.S. Open by eight shots last June.
Ernie Els needed a solo-third finish to have any chance of qualifying for the Masters in two weeks time. He entered Sunday in a tie for third with England’s Ian Poulter but slumped to a 75 and finished tied-fourth. He now needs to win this week at the Shell Houston Open or receive a Special Invitation from Augusta National to compete.
Woods looks to have peaked at just the right time and is the joint favourite to win the year’s first major with World No.2 Rory McIlroy. On the 18th green, Woods’ joy and relief was obvious and he crouched down surveying his birdie putt with a huge grin on his face.
"It's not like winning a major championship or anything," Woods said. "But it certainly feels really good."
"I've gotten better, and that's the main thing," Woods said. "I've been close for a number of tournaments now. And it was just a matter of staying the course and staying patient, keeping working on fine-tuning what we're doing. And here we are."
Tradition at the event dictates that the host Arnold Palmer greets the champion as he walks off the final green. But the legend’s blood pressure increased during the final round from new medications, and he was taken to the hospital about 15 minutes before the tournament ended as a precaution.
Alaistair Johnston, vice chairman at IMG and his longtime business manager, said Palmer would be kept overnight. "Nobody is overly concerned," he said.
Woods goes to No. 6 in the world, returning to the top 10 for the first time since May 22.
"Heading home now and I can't stop smiling. Thanks to Otown fans and everyone watching for all the love. Get well soon, Arnie," Woods tweeted about three hours after his win.
Runner up McDowell believes Woods is back to his best.
"I think he really just kind of nailed home his comeback," McDowell said. "Great to have a front-row seat watching maybe the greatest of all time doing what he does best -- winning golf tournaments."
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