ORLANDO, Fla. — Even with a bizarre sequence of events that cost Tiger Woods a comfortable lead Saturday, he walked off the 18th green at the Arnold Palmer Invitational as close as he has ever been to ending 30 months without a PGA Tour victory.
He had a one-shot lead, and no one in golf has a more formidable record as a frontrunner.
He was hitting the ball so well that Woods had the putter in his hand for a birdie attempt on 38 consecutive holes.
And he was at Bay Hill, where he already has won six times.
“If you’re in the lead, you’ve done some good things,” Woods said after recovering from a late double bogey for a 1-under 71. “That’s how I’ve always looked at it. And it’s a nice position to be in.”
Better yet would be posing with Palmer in a trophy presentation.
But there’s still one round to go before that happens, and a familiar face alongside him in the final group.
Graeme McDowell, the former U.S. Open champion who rallied from four shots behind to beat Woods in the Chevron World Challenge at the end of 2010, didn’t make a birdie until the 17th hole but kept bogeys off his card for a 71.
“There’s a fair bit of expectations on Tiger,” McDowell said. “He’s looking to complete the comeback tomorrow, because there’s no doubt he’s playing great. He’s got the ball under control. But he’s got to go out there and try to win tomorrow, the same way I do and a lot of other players that have got the opportunity to win.”
It will be the 40th time Woods has taken the lead into the final round on the PGA Tour. He has failed to win just twice, one of those times as a 20-year-old in his third start as a pro.
Woods was more interested in winning for the 72nd time on tour than the 30 months it has taken to get to this point.
“I’m looking forward to tomorrow. I’m looking forward to getting out there and playing and competing again,” Woods said. “As far as what it would mean? It would mean No. 72. Not a bad number, either.”
Woods last won a PGA Tour event at the BMW Championship on Sept. 13, 2009. He won in Australia two months later to close out his season, but his life changed forever a short time later in perhaps the most spectacular downfall of any athlete.
That all seems to be such a distant memory, even two weeks ago when he withdrew in the middle of the final round at Doral with tightness in his left Achilles tendon.
Woods cut a more familiar figure Saturday.