ORLANDO, Fla. - Tiger Woods studied his 25-foot birdie putt from every angle, convincing himself he could make it to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational because he had a similar putt in the same situation seven years ago at Bay Hill.
He wasn’t alone in his thinking.
Palmer stood behind the 18th green in his pink shirt and blue blazer, waiting to hand him the trophy. The King was joined by an army of fans who squinted into the late afternoon sun, all expecting Woods to continue a winning streak that began in September.
And then there was Bart Bryant, who challenged Woods over the final two hours, but now sat in the scoring trailer and listened.
“I heard a big cheer, and I got up and left,” Bryant said. “That’s why he’s Tiger Woods.”
This one was special.
Tied for the lead on one of the most intimidating closing holes in golf, Woods delivered his best swing of the week with a 5-iron from 164 yards into a stiff breeze, then a 25-foot birdie putt that tumbled into the cup to stretch his PGA Tour winning streak to five.
It was his 64th victory, tying Ben Hogan at No. 3 on the tour’s career list.
And it produced a celebration like none of the others. Woods backpedaled as the ball crept closer to the hole, turned and slammed his cap to the ground as he let out a roar. Woods looked perplexed when caddie Steve Williams handed him his hat.
“I was like, ‘How in the hell did he get my hat?’ ” Woods said. “Evidently, it came off. I need to see the highlights. I was so into the moment of the putt going in and winning the golf tournament.”
Woods closed with a 4-under 66 to keep intact the ridiculous notion of a perfect season.
Or is it?
“What he’s doing right now, you can’t even fathom,” Bryant said after closing with a 67. He was the only player to break par all four rounds at Bay Hill, and all it got him was second place.
There have been five winning streaks of at least five tournaments in PGA Tour history. Woods owns three of them, with the others belonging to Hogan (6) and Byron Nelson, whose 11 in a row is considered among the most untouchable records in all of sports.
Woods won Bay Hill for the fifth time, becoming the first player in PGA Tour history to win at least five times in four different tournaments. The others are the Buick Invitational, Bridgestone Invitational and the CA Championship, where he plays next week at Doral as the three-time defending champion.
No wonder some are starting to question whether he will lose again.
Not since Bay Hill in 2001 against Phil Mickelson has Woods won a PGA Tour event with a birdie on the 72nd hole to win by a shot.
“I kept telling myself, ‘I’ve done this before. I did it against Phil, and this time it’s a little bit deeper into the green and the putt has a little bit more break and it has a little more grain. I’ve done it before, and I can do it again,’ ” Woods said.
And he did.
Palmer grinned and nodded, as if to tell those around him, “I told you so.”
Hogan won 64 times over 21 years, the last victory coming at the 1959 Colonial National Invitational. The next target for Woods is Jack Nicklaus at 73, with Sam Snead’s record of 82 victories looking closer each time Woods plays.
“It’s pretty amazing to be in that kind of company,” Woods said. “I’ve had an amazing run in my career, and hopefully, it continues.”
No one can say these guys are laying down for Woods. He had to fight to the finish under a sweltering sun, and Bryant was visibly disappointed when he heard the roar and saw the putt. A victory would have sent him to the World Golf Championship next week, and earned him a spot in the Masters.
'He forced the issue'
March 16: Tiger Woods says Bart Bryant was tough to beat, and that putting was key.
Tiger's amazing finish at Bay Hill
March 16: Tiger Woods nailed an improbable 25-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to keep his winning streak alive.
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