Tiger Woods Can Reach No. 1 Ranking with Win at Palmer's Bay Hill

Kathy BissellCorrespondent IMarch 10, 2013

Donald Trump (L) congratulates Tiger Woods (R) on 76th victory.
Donald Trump (L) congratulates Tiger Woods (R) on 76th victory.Warren Little/Getty Images

When Tiger Woods hoisted the WGC Cadillac trophy, no doubt he was enjoying the moment.

"It feels good, especially to play that well this entire week, on a difficult setup," he said. "The greens got really quick out there today. And if you left the ball in the correct spot though, you could be pretty aggressive and you could shoot a good number."

Adam Scott proved that by posting a 64 to move up 16 places and finish in a tie for third with Graeme McDowell.

The new champion actually got an assist from second-place finisher Steve Stricker, who helped Woods with his putting before the tournament began. Naturally, they had slightly different thoughts on it.

"His big swing gets into his setup of his putting stroke," Stricker said about Woods' putting. "He's been chipping a lot, so he gets way to the left and his grip was on a little strong and he was kind of dropping it back and under and then trying to save it and turn it over. It was just a couple little things there. And he actually had his hands behind the ball."

Stricker said he tried to get him into a different setup so Woods could accelerate down and through the putting line.

"Whatever he says, I'm going to do," Woods said about the advice he got from Stricker. "He's one of the best putters that's ever lived."

Woods said that what happened was that his posture had changed from the week at Torrey Pines/ Farmers Insurance Open. Stricker reminded him of what he had done in the past.

"I felt comfortable, basically just like I did at Torrey, and I started rolling it just like I did then," Woods explained. "He can see the things that are off a little bit, because he knows my stroke so well."

In addition, the tip helped Woods overcome problems he had at the Honda Classic with grain on the greens.

"I had some into‑the‑grain putts that last week, I just didn't quite hit right. I thought they looked good, but they didn't go in," he admitted. "I just couldn't figure out what was going on, because I hit them right on my line. It just didn't have enough initial speed, and hence, it was dying at the end."

Woods thinks that helped him make as many putts as he did on the Blue Monster.

This week, Woods was not perfect, but he was stellar in spots. He recovered from missteps, staying three to six shots ahead of the field until the 18th hole. By that time, his bogey on the last didn't matter.

This week, Woods' drives were more controlled than they have been in recent memory. The two-way miss seems to have disappeared, giving way to an occasional miss to the right, such as the one he had on the first hole, a par five that he still parred.

His long-distance putting reappeared. Sunday, on the second hole, he drained an 18-footer for birdie.

Woods' irons are now giving him the opportunities he needs to make easy birdies. On the par-three fourth on Sunday, he hit inside five feet on his tee shot and made a two.

He's not missing anything under 10 feet that is makeable anymore, either—like the six-footer he drained on the 10th hole for birdie.

In fact, the only part of his game that hasn't yet returned is the famous Tiger Woods luck. Saturday, his drive at the 17th hole actually landed and lodged in a palm tree. The only good news is he could identify the ball and got to drop with a one-stroke penalty instead of having the ball declared lost and getting a stroke and distance penalty.

Statistically, Woods did not lead in any category for the week. He was 21st in driving distance and 30th in driving accuracy (53 percent fairways). He was second in strokes gained putting and sixth in greens in regulation (69 percent). But victories are never just about the stats. They are about players making the shots when they have to.

Nowdays, he's not thinking mechanics. He's thinking trajectory and playing by feel. In addition, he understands his new swing well enough that he can make adjustments mid-round if he has to.

That means Woods is stalking victories and history more than ever.

Sam Snead was 45 when he won his 76th tournament, the 1957 Palm Beach Round Robin. Woods is eight years younger than Snead was. If he continues to play like he did at Doral, he may break Snead's record before the end of the year—certainly by sometime in 2014.

As pleased as Woods likely is with number 77, he is a forward thinker. He knows that a victory at the Arnold Palmer Bay Hill Invitational in two weeks would return him to the top spot in the world rankings. And if this week is any indication, he's ready to challenge in Orlando and retake the top spot from Rory McIlroy.

Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.