Tiger may be chasing Jack Nicklaus' record number of major titles, but it's Arnold Palmer's course that Woods owns. Up until last year, Tiger had won four consecutive times at Bay Hill by a combined margin of 20 strokes. That includes his 2003 performance when he won by 11 shots despite battling food poisoning on the final day. Prediction: Tiger will play well this weekend.
Can't we ever get these top four guys together? Ernie Els returns to the Tour this week, but Mickelson is taking the week off. Maybe he's too busy making sure his new and improved Web site (philmickelson.com) is running on all cylinders. Phil promises to keep his site "fresh and lively." Does that mean he'll post his true feelings on his rivalry with Tiger?
We spent a moment wondering if red-hot Ernie should move to the head of our Power Rankings. After all, he's won two consecutive overseas events, both in spectacular fashion. But until he wins in the States, he'll have to remain behind Tiger and Phil. Still, his confidence is sky-high going into Bay Hill. "With two wins under my belt," Els said, "I can't wait to get to America."
Honda Classic hanging in the balance. Two-and-a-half foot putt to stay alive. And Vijay misses it. Is that a foreshadow of how the rest of 2005 will wind up for the world's No. 2-ranked player? No one expected Vijay to duplicate last year's win total, but he's clearly behind Woods, Mickelson and Els in terms of momentum. Of course, that could all change if he wins this week.
Toms has followed up his Match Play victory with consecutive fifth-place finishes at Doral and Honda. But that wasn't enough to keep his place at No. 6 in the world rankings, having been overtaken by Honda Classic winner Padraig Harrington. He'll skip Bay Hill, never a place he's played particularly well.
Mr. Runner-up finally has a Tour title to his name, thanks to a clutch final-round performance and a short missed putt courtesy of Vijay Singh (see above). Harrington now has three consecutive top 10 finishes in his last three starts. More important, Harrington, who has won 10 events around the world, may have turned the corner by turning another potential second-place finish (26 in his career) into a victory.
It's time for the world's fifth-ranked player to step up this season. Sure, he's coming off a couple of top 10 finishes in his last two starts. But all those above him have sent a message by winning this season. Unfortunately, the Goose is usually cooked at Bay Hill; he's missed the cut in three of his five starts there.
Annika will enter this week's LPGA event on a three-tournament winning streak, having won in her last two starts of 2004 and her first start this season. She also comes to Superstition Mountain as the defending champ, having beaten Cristie Kerr by four strokes a year ago. Whether she'll get as much ink as Michelle Wie this week remains to be seen.
Evidently, Hale is human. He finished in a tie for 14th in the SBC Classic, his first non-competitive outing this season on the Champions Tour. Even so, he leads the seniors in putting and birdies, a couple of stats that usually indicate you're having a successful season.
Scott's last outing wasn't particularly impressive, as he failed to make the cut at Doral. The young Aussie returns to the Tour this week at Bay Hill and will seek to regain his momentum before defending his title at The Players Championship next week. He did well at Bay Hill last year, finished in a tie for third. During one stretch, he hit 44 of 54 greens in regulation.