Golf: Tiger Woods starts strong at Bay Hill, fuelled by a vintage 71-foot birdie putt

Tiger Woods lines up a putt on the seventh hole during the first round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Tiger Woods lines up a putt on the seventh hole during the first round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.PHOTO: AFP

ORLANDO, Florida (WASHINGTON POST) - It was some of the best of Tiger and some of the, well, not best of Tiger.

Tiger Woods again flashed the form he displayed last week in the Valspar Championship - for better and for worse - in Thursday's first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, shooting a 4-under 68 that put him in the clubhouse tied for second, one shot behind early leader Jimmy Walker. (Other morning players remained on the course after Woods was finished, while half the field had afternoon tee times.)

"It's taken a little bit of time in terms of tournament rounds under my belt to be able to get into this position and I've got my tournament feels now, which is nice," Woods said after the round,via Golfweek.

"That was only going to come with time and with patience and just playing golf tournaments."

Woods had an aggravating double bogey on the back nine and then settled down, dropping in a vintage 71-foot birdie putt that momentarily had him in sole possession of the lead and sent the crowd into a frenzy.

He had started the day by posting his first bogey-free nine-hole performance of the young season. And during his opening round at Bay Hill, updated Masters odds installed Woods as the favourite to win what would be his fifth green jacket.

His Valspar performance last week filled both golf fans and Woods with hope as the Masters, the first major of the year, nears next month. He finished in a tie for second on Innisbrook's Copperhead course, his best finish since he tied for second in the Barclays in August 2013. Never mind that he couldn't close on Sunday; his game appeared to back.

This week's tournament should put him in a good frame of mind. As Woods put it last weekend, he will be playing on "a golf course I like. I've played well there throughout the years and just haven't been back in a couple of years. Nice to get back."

However he finishes, Bay Hill seems likely to be his last tournament before the Masters, which starts April 5.

And as he reminded media members on Thursday, the coverage leading up to Augusta will be dramatically different than anyone might have imagined in January.

"You guys are asking different questions than you did when I first came back and that wasn't that long ago, that's two months ago," Woods said.

"The narrative has completely flipped from how you guys ask me questions, and I just wanted to remind you guys that it wasn't that long ago that you were asking a different set of questions and that you need to enjoy it."

Just imagine the questions if he manages to win this weekend.