Woods wins Bay Hill, returns to No. 1 in world ranking

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ORLANDO, Fla. — The moment was vintage Tiger Woods, and so was his reaction.

Seconds after Rickie Fowler made a 40-foot birdie putt on the 12th hole to cut the leader’s advantage to two shots, Woods posed over his 25-foot birdie putt until he swept the putter upward in his left hand and marched toward the cup as it dropped for a birdie.

Fowler, standing on the edge of the green, turned with a slight smile, as if to say, “What else can I do?”

Woods won the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill on Monday and returned to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time since October 2010, the longest spell of his career. After all that time, after so much turmoil with his personal life and his health, Woods looks as good as ever.

“It’s a byproduct of hard work, patience and getting back to winning golf tournaments,” he said after his 77th career PGA Tour victory.

Woods replaced Rory McIlroy, who didn’t compete in this tournament, at No. 1. This week will be the 624th that Woods, 37, has been ranked at the top. In the 24-year history of the ranking, the only other player to be No. 1 for more than 100 weeks is Greg Norman (331).

Woods essentially wrapped up his eighth title at Bay Hill with an 8-iron out of a fairway bunker on the par-5 16th hole that easily cleared the water and landed safely on the green for a two-putt birdie.

As in his two other victories this year, Woods never let anyone get closer than two shots in the final round. With a conservative bogey he could afford on the final hole, he closed with a 2-under 70 for a two-stroke victory over Justin Rose (70).

Woods had a 13-under 275 total in a tournament that ended a day later than scheduled because of a thunderstorm Sunday. He earned $1.116 million.

Woods walked off the 18th green waving his putter — truly a magic wand at Bay Hill — over his head to acknowledge fans. His eighth victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational tied a PGA Tour record for the most in one tournament; Sam Snead won the Greater Greensboro Open eight times from 1938 to 1965, at two courses.

“If I get healthy, I know I can play this game at a high level,” Woods said of being No. 1 in the world. “I know I can be where I’m contending in every event, contending in major championships and being consistent day in and day out — if I got healthy. That was the first step in the process.

“Once I got there, then my game turned.”

A year ago, he came to Bay Hill without having won in more than 2 ½ years. He left this year having won six times in his last 20 starts on the PGA Tour.

In next month’s Masters at Augusta National in Georgia, Woods will try to end his five-year drought in the majors.

“I’m really excited about the rest of this year,” said Woods, who has 14 major titles.

Woods fell as low as No. 58 in the world as he coped with the collapse of his marriage, a loss of sponsors and injuries to his left leg.

One week after he announced he was dating Olympic ski champion Lindsey Vonn, Woods returned to the top of golf.

“Number 1 !!!!!!!!!!!!!” Vonn tweeted moments after Woods’ victory.

Asked if there was any correlation to his winning right after going public with his relationship, Woods smiled and said, “You’re reading way too much into this.”

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