ORLANDO (Reuters) - Tiger Woods takes his rousing comeback tour to one of his favorite haunts - Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill layout, where the 14-times major winner has triumphed eight times.
Woods not only feels supremely confident on the track, but cherishes the time spent with Palmer, who traditionally greeted the tournament winner on the last green in the city Woods formerly called home.
“To be able to win this tournament and to have Arnold there and to shake his hand and for him to give me a big hug and a couple of times he says: ‘I called it, I knew you were going to make that putt.’
“It was little things like that ... sharing jokes with him out there on the green and he and I laughing. Those are moments that unfortunately I’ll never have, but I have those memories,” Woods told reporters ahead of Thursday’s opening round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
The 42-year-old Woods had a long relationship with seven-times major winner Palmer, who died in September 2016 aged 87.
“I first met Arnold when I played here in the U.S. Junior when I was 15,” said Woods. “And then I moved here in ‘96 and he invited me over here to play in his Monday shoot-out and I did and I didn’t like it very much because he took my money.
“But I thoroughly enjoyed being around him, being with him and we had so many great times. None more so than last time I won here (in 2013)... We sat down, we just started to BS and have a great time together and I’m going to miss those times, for sure.”
That was the last year Woods won a PGA Tour title but the 42-year-old looks like he may finally be over the back injuries that sidelined him and limited his ability to swing the club.
His runner-up finish last week at the Valspar Championship has lifted his confidence and given him hope of ending his five-year Tour title drought and maybe adding to his major haul for the first time since 2008 at next month’s Masters.
Woods said he is taking it one step at a time since returning to competition this year after spinal fusion surgery one year ago.
“Just keep getting better. Just keep making incremental improvements and I think I’ve done that,” he said.
“Each and every week I’ve learned from what I’ve done and more importantly I’m learning my body. I’m learning how I can swing it and not swing it... these are all things that are new. So I’m still learning, I’m getting a lot better at it.
“I think that you’re starting to see the fruits of that now of the little tweaks I’ve made and I’m excited about it.”
Woods may be taking one step at a time, but he cannot help but get psyched up about a return to the field at Augusta.
“ I love playing Augusta National. I love it. And I know how to play it,” said the four-time Masters champion.
“Just me being out there on those greens and hitting putts and being creative... there’s no other golf course like it in the world and there’s no other golf tournament like it.
“It’s a players’ heaven.”
Editing by Ken Ferris