Tiger Woods wins Arnold Palmer Invitational

Easy Tiger! Woods tames Bay Hill to land first PGA Tour win since 2009 meltdown

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UPDATED:

23:18 GMT, 25 March 2012

Tiger Woods is a winner on the PGA Tour again – and back up to sixth in the world with The Masters his next start.

After 30 months without an official Tour victory, Woods easily in the end held off the challenge of Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell to claim his seventh Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.

The five-stroke victory, achieved on 13 under par with a closing 70, came just two weeks after there were fears for the 14-major winner's career again when he withdrew from the Cadillac Championship in Miami.

Hello again: Tiger Woods won his first Tour trophy since his meltdown

Hello again: Tiger Woods won his first Tour trophy since his meltdown

On the prowl: Woods strolled to victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando

On the prowl: Woods strolled to victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando

ARNOLD PALMER LEADERBOARD

Click here for the final standings at the Bay Hill Arnold Palmer Invitational

That latest injury proved to be only a mild Achilles tendon strain in his left ankle, however, and now Woods is favourite again for the opening major of the season starting on Thursday week.

It is shaping up to be a clash of the giants at Augusta. Rory McIlroy went to world number one by winning the Honda Classic a few weeks ago, while on Sunday Luke Donald claimed the spot back by capturing the Transitions Championship.

Woods now has 72 PGA Tour titles to his name. He needs only one more to match the haul by Jack Nicklaus and that would leave just Sam Snead – 82 between 1936 and 1965 – ahead of him.

Apart from his 14 majors, four fewer than Nicklaus, this latest success will feel as sweet as any.

Up, up and away: Woods hits out of a bunker on the 10th hole

Up, up and away: Woods hits out of a bunker on the 10th hole

Although he won the Chevron World
Challenge last December, that was against only 17 other players and some
poor finishes earlier this season had people asking questions about him
again.

McDowell had hoped to come from behind to beat Woods, just as he did at the 2010 Chevron in California.

On
that occasion his deficit with a round to play was four and this time
it was just one – but that became three when he found a plugged lie by
the opening green and double-bogeyed.

Woods dropped a shot by three-putting the short next before the fireworks started. McDowell made a 45-footer from the fringe of the third and then holed from over 50 feet for eagle at the long sixth.

He still walked off that green two behind, though, Woods having three birdies in four holes.

That became four in six with a superb approach to two feet on the difficult eighth, then McDowell missed a four-foot par putt to turn in 36 against the 33 of Woods.

Careful: Woods lines-up a putt on the eighth hole as Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland looks on

Careful: Woods lines-up a putt on the eighth hole as Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland looks on

The Ulsterman's putter came good
again from 23 feet at the 11th, but when he took six on the long next –
off much the better drive – he was four behind once more and now with
just six holes remaining.

Both
bogeyed the short 14th, Woods made a great par save from 12 feet at the
15th and McDowell missed a six-foot birdie chance on the par-five 16th.

When
he followed that by three-putting for bogey it was all over unless
Woods did what Jeff Overton did earlier by dumping three balls in the
water on the last.

There was no way that was going to happen.

While McDowell was disappointed not to do better than 74, the world ranking points and Ryder Cup points – and the money, of course – were some consolation.

There was no consolation for Ernie Els, though, and he must now win this week's Houston Open to earn the final spot in The Masters.

Chat: Woods talks with caddie Joe LaCava

Chat: Woods talks with caddie Joe LaCava

With Jim Furyk finishing joint 11th, Els had to finish in second place to climb into the world's top 50 and qualify that way.

But
the former world number one, who a week before bogeyed the last two
holes after leading by one, twice missed from under three feet as he
slipped from joint third overnight into a six-way tie for fourth with a
74.

England's Ian Poulter shot 74, but that was good enough to take solo third – a real boost to his confidence and Ryder Cup hopes only three weeks after being diagnosed with pneumonia.

Woods said: 'It feels good – it feels really good.

'It's been a lot of hard work and I'm so thankful for a lot of people helping me out along the way. They all know who they are.

Casual: Woods easily saw off the challenge of McDowell

Casual: Woods easily saw off the challenge of McDowell

'It was incredible to have that type of support here. I used to live here for a long time and it was neat to see some friends come out.'

Asked about The Masters, he told Sky Sports: 'I am excited, there's no doubt. It's always fun to get there and play and I'm looking forward to the momentum I've built up here.

'The things I've been working on are all coming together at the right time.'

More to follow Woods will hope this is just the start of Tour comeback trail

More to follow Woods will hope this is just the start of Tour comeback trail