Tiger Woods Meets Rickie Fowler in Colorful and Loud Bay Hill Final

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Tiger Woods Meets Rickie Fowler in Colorful and Loud Bay Hill Final
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
Tiger Woods leads Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Watching Tiger Woods is giving me mental whiplash. He hits a good shot. He hits in the water or sand. He misses a putt. He makes a long-par save. Give me a break. Really.   

It’s not the same kind of tough golf watching as it was in the days of Greg Norman or Fred Couples, both of whom caused their fans to carry a handful of antacid tablets, but it’s in that territory. It took an iron constitution, a stomach of steel, to watch Norman or Couples. For Woods, you just need to have strong lungs because you are going to cheer or moan a lot.    

Norman could always be counted on to flare one out toward New Zealand or Nova Scotia at a critical time, but often, he was far enough ahead that it didn’t matter. When he wasn’t, that "oops" shot was a disaster.

However, Norman was always ready to charge from as much as 10 behind in the final round. It was uh oh, look at Greg. He’d toss up a 63 or 64 or 65 to pass bunch of guys and often end up with the trophy.

The leaders would press as they watched his name inch its way up the leaderboard. The more he climbed, the more bogeys they’d make, just by watching the scores. Sometimes, he’d just get enough for a playoff, but because he had the hot hand that day, Norman would manufacture a win.

Couples didn’t typically do the Sunday-come-from-behind maneuver. He was more of a leaderboard lurker. He’d be hanging around two, three or four shots back of the lead for three rounds. Then he’d pounce at the last moment or make eagle to go ahead by one with a couple holes to go—or he'd fall on his sword with a ball out of bounds (OB). Quick, where are those Rolaids?     

This week, Woods has shown us the best of golf and the worst of golf. He’s been in the water. He’s bogeyed the last three to fall back into the pack. He was so mad at himself Friday night that he stayed up to all hours watching basketball with steam coming out of his ears. 

Saturday at Bay Hill, Woods let go of the demons. Good Tiger has returned. Good Tiger who makes 11- to 17-footers for par when he has to. Good Tiger who hits shots out of divots and then later tells you the divot belonged to a left-hander because of its shape. (What???) Good Tiger who makes eagle at a hole he bogeyed the previous day. Better than Good Tiger who now makes jokes in the media center.

Amazing Tiger who reminds you he’s won eight at Torrey Pines, if you count the U.S. Open, so eight at one location, he’s done it. Great Tiger who tells you he knows that he’ll get his No. 1 ranking back Sunday with a victory, and that was one of his goals this year.

Sunday will be a noisy blur of Red and Orange. Rickie Fowler is playing in the final group with Woods, and we are just about to find out if he can stand up to one of the ultimate tests in golf: playing with Woods on Sunday and beating him. If Fowler succeeds, well, he’ll be stratospheric.

Fortunately for Fowler, he’s played in the Ryder Cup, and nothing is more tense than that. But an idea of how loud it gets with Woods is that Saturday, standing behind the 18 green waiting for groups to finish, we could hear the eagle roar from 16.

It was slightly muffled by a distance of more than half-a-mile and the tree cover, but we knew it was Tiger “doing something” because of the sound. It was as big as a birdie at least, but not as large as anybody’s hole in one. 

Will Woods get his 77th victory? Will Fowler be the spoiler? This is the stuff that makes golf fans go crazy—so crazy that some of them have invented "Tiger Towels." Don’t know the thinking behind that, but they are out there. 

Now, the rule is, you can’t stop good golf. So whether it is Woods or Fowler, one back, or Justin Rose or John Huh, also one back, or someone else completely, days like Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational are what make your eyes gleam with interest and your heart beat a little faster in anticipation of the outcome. The only trouble may be the wind, predicted to be 25-30 mph. 

So dust off your leather sofa and get ready for an old-fashioned punching match.  

They call it moving day for a reason: Matt Every is up 50 places from 70th to 20th.

Clothing alert: Like Graeme McDowell, Arnold Palmer is working the v-neck cardigan. Can Perry Como music be far behind? 

 

Kathy Bissell is a golf writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.

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