Woods can make history with fifth Bay Hill win
by Associated Press
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) ? Arnold Palmer owns the golf course.
Tiger Woods owns the tournament.
The Bay Hill Invitational has become a boon for Woods, who can make history this week by becoming the first player on any tour to win the same tournament five straight years.
From the time his streak began in 2000, Woods is 65 under par at Bay Hill and has won his four titles by a combined 20 strokes. A year ago, he had a vicious stomach virus that gave him the dry heaves throughout the final round, and he still doubled his lead and won 11 shots.
It would be easy to explain his success with one of golf's oldest adages: There are horses for courses.
Just don't overlook the horse.
"I've never bought into that," Fred Couples said. "Davis Love has won Hilton Head 100 times. Mark O'Meara has won Pebble Beach 100 times. Tiger has won Bay Hill 100 times. They're just really good players."
Couples was a little off on the math, but his point is well-taken.
Harbour Town in Hilton Head, S.C., winds through tree-lined fairways and has the smallest greens on the PGA Tour. It is hardly considered a power hitter's alley, yet Love has won there five times.
O'Meara has won five times at Pebble Beach, and he still holds the 72-hole scoring record of 20-under 268 in 1997, the year he held off Woods and David Duval.
Jose Maria Olazabal, whose driving is the worst part of his game, has won all four of his regular PGA Tour events on courses that would seem to favor good drivers - Firestone (twice), revamped Torrey Pines and Castle Pines.
Jim Furyk, known for his accuracy with the driver and steady play, is a three-time winner at Las Vegas. Couples, a power player in his prime, won twice at Riviera and was runner-up two other times.
"What happens is that when players win a tournament, they have such a belief that on Sunday, whether their game is on or off, they believe, 'Hey, I can do this.' That mental aspect gives them an edge," said O'Meara, who also won a California State Amateur at Pebble.
Still, it would be foolish to suggest the course is not a factor for Woods.
He had three-year winning streaks at two other tournaments, Memorial and the NEC Invitational at Firestone, both suited for guys who hit the ball long and high.
And he clearly has an advantage over the shorter hitters at Bay Hill, especially the last two years when the greens were rebuilt and became so hard that players wondered what blend of concrete Palmer mixed with the grass.
"If you can drive the ball down there and keep it in play, it just makes it so much easier going to the greens with shorter clubs," Woods said. "And if you look at most of the guys who have had a chance the four years I've won, most of the guys are longer hitters."
Love finished four shots behind in 2000, and Phil Mickelson gave Woods the stiffest challenge a year later, losing by one shot when Woods birdied the 18th hole. Mickelson also came close to catching Woods in 2002, until he went for the green on the par-5 16th - under the trees and over the water - and came up short.
A year ago, it really didn't matter who finished second with Woods winning by 11.
But ask Woods why he has won Bay Hill four straight time, and he talks primarily about what he sees and feels.
"I'm sure Davis will say that the golf course (Harbour Town) sets up well to his eye. You hear that a lot," Woods said. "You'll hear Riviera with Freddie, the whole golf course sets up to his eye. That's why this golf course, I've had success on it. I don't feel uncomfortable on a lot of the shots. On top of that, I've won here five times.
"The more you win, the more it breeds confidence."
Woods wasn't looking ahead to Sunday, rather looking behind to the 1991 U.S. Junior Amateur at Bay Hill, the start of another one of his amazing streaks. Woods is the only player to win three straight U.S. Junior Amateurs.
Not many would be surprised if he were to win Bay Hill again.
"I don't see anything stopping him from winning his fifth tournament," O'Meara said. "He's fired up. He wants it. But it's not going to be a pushover. These guys don't lie down for Tiger Woods."
Love is coming off runner-up finishes in his last two tournaments, losing to Woods in the finals at the Match Play Championship and to Todd Hamilton's 8-iron into 4 feet last week at the Honda Classic.
Vijay Singh is coming off a two-week break and has the classic game for Bay Hill.
And if Bay Hill is only for power hitters, this should be right up Ernie Els' alley. The Big Easy won at Bay Hill in 1990 when he put 13 strokes between him and Woods over the final 36 holes played Sunday.
"I don't want to think about Tiger winning five," Els said. "But it's a hell of an achievement, especially in modern-day golf. He's set so many records already, and this will be another one that will stand - if he does it - for a very long time.
"You know, he's an amazing player."
Indeed, Woods is quite a horse.