Arnold Palmer 2018

Shortly after his par putt dropped on the 72nd hole at the Valspar Championship, Tiger Woods was already looking ahead to next week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational. Woods finished second to Paul Casey at the Valspar Championship, his best finish on the PGA Tour in almost five years.

He’s bested that a record eight times at Bay Hill, though, site of next week’s event. Woods won events there in 2000-03, 2008-09 and 2012-13. That’s a lot of Ws in one place, and though he “won’t touch a club on Monday,” Woods will be ready to rock again come Round 1 on Thursday.  It will be his first appearance since 2013.

“Get some rest and get ready to head up there,” said Woods. “I’ve got some things to do, but I hadn’t played Arnold’s tournament in a couple years now. Unfortunately, I didn’t play … before his passing. It’s going to be good for me to get back. I’ve had some great memories there. I have won there a few times, but I used to live there, my kids were born there. Great town and atmosphere.”

Woods, who now ranks No. 11 on the PGA Tour in strokes gained (a preposterous number!), will take what appears to be a really solid mid-March game to a place where he has as many victories as Justin Thomas has in his entire career.

I’m really looking forward to next week,” Woods added. “I hadn’t played there in a couple years because of my back, and I wanted to play there a couple years ago. I’m very excited. It’s a golf course I like. I’ve played well there throughout the years and just haven’t been back in a couple years.”

With other big names in the field like Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy, Woods is unlikely to be the favorite … but maybe he should be. He has three top-25 finishes in just four events this season on the PGA Tour, and his body of work thus far looks sustainable.

“I believe my game is progressing,” Woods noted. “As I was telling you guys yesterday, I had really some nice building blocks at Honda and I’ve had a few tweaks for this week and it paid off.”

That could mean win No. 9 at Bay Hill in a week or, gasp, win No. 5 at Augusta National four weeks from Sunday.

Whoa. Of course, a lot has to happen for Woods to match Mickelson’s winning timing, but that is pretty freaking freaky.

Woods’ last PGA Tour victory came at the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, but Bay Hill seems like as likely a spot as any for Woods to win again considering his eight victories there. And Woods will be making his fifth official start of this latest comeback, which is picking up steam.

Mickelson ended his long drought with a playoff victory over Justin Thomas at the WGC-Mexico Championship, something Woods said was “very, very cool to watch.” Golf fans can agree that a win by Woods this coming Sunday would also be very, very cool — and very, VERY serendipitous.
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