Tiger Woods has moved to play down rising expectations after making an impressive start at the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Thursday.
The American golfer is making only his fifth appearance after returning from a long-term back injury that required four surgeries thus far. He finished tied second in his previous outing at the Valspar Championship and continued the form into the tournament at the Bay Hill Golf Club in Florida.
Woods, who is looking for a record ninth title at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, recorded a four-under 68 in his first round, which is just four shots behind clubhouse leader Hendrik Stenson. The 14-time major winner looked like he is getting back to his best form after months on the sidelines with a chronic back injury.
According to the Guardian, a number of bookmakers have installed Woods as the joint-favorite alongside world number one Dustin Johnson for the upcoming Augusta Masters, which begins April 5. The American, however, was quick to play down expectations and was unwilling to get carried away by the hype surrounding his return to form.
“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, after his round at the Bay Hill course, as quoted by the Guardian.
It was just over two months ago that questions were being raised about Woods’ ability to get back to playing competitively on the PGA Tour. Even the 14-time major winner was unsure if he would ever play golf again.
Ahead of the start of the Valspar Championships, Woods made it clear he was not yet close to winning tournaments, but was just happy to be playing competitive golf again. He was certain he would get better as the season progressed, but there would have been few who expected him to start challenging for titles in his fifth tournament back from injury.
“The narrative has completely flipped 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. I enjoy just playing again after what I’ve been through. Playing feels good,” he added.
Woods recently spoke of his admiration for old rival and compatriot Phil Mickelson, who recently won the World Golf Chamionships in Mexico and cited the 47-year-old’s win as proof the veterans could continue to challenge the younger generation of players.
It was Mickelson’s first victory since 2013, and Woods’ last win also came in the same year, when he won the Bridgestone Invitational. The American golf legend is yet to win a title since entering his 40s.
However, the 42-year-old’s first round performance at the Bay Hill Golf Club on Thursday will leave no doubt that Woods is as close as he has ever been to end the title drought.