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Worm-damaged greens a problem at Bay Hill

Yani Tseng, McDonald's LPGA Championship
Mel Evans/AP
Rookie Yani Tseng, playing in only her third major championship, became the youngest winner of the LPGA Championship, when she beat Maria Hjorth in a four hole playoff.

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Arnold Palmer has seen just about everything in his lifetime of golf, which began as the son of a golf course superintendent and progressed through 62 victories, seven major championships and a career as one of the game's endearing figures.

That changed a couple of months ago. The King never imagined needing a microscope in golf.

But it was those microscopic images of a nematode — a fancy name for a worm that damages grass — that made him deeply concerned about Bay Hill leading up to the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

"I've been in the golf course business all my life, and I've treated a lot of situations, and this was probably one that worried me as much as any," Palmer said Wednesday. "I found things that I didn't know about grasses and golf and the horticulture. There are 40 different species of nematodes, and I looked at microscopic shots of them crawling up the roots of the grasses and the whole thing."

The PGA Tour sent in as many specialists as it could find, and the problem has been fixed as best as possible. Sod was plugged on some of the greens, and the PGA Tour posted a notice last week that greens were improved, but would not be ideal.

Palmer said the greens were in good shape, and by that he meant the tournament could begin Thursday. They won't be as fast. They won't be as pure. But they're good enough.

Early scouting reports indicated they were fine on the front nine, but a bit shaky on the back. Mainly, they will be slower than usual. Tiger Woods was not impressed with any of them.

"They are not very good," Woods said. "It's going to be an interesting week on them. You're going to see a lot of guys hit good putts and they're going to go weird ways, unfortunately. But, hey — we've all got to deal with it."

This might be the year the nematodes nearly killed Bay Hill. The next chapter of the Arnold Palmer Invitational is whether Woods can slay a course that has treated him like a champion and a chump.

No other PGA Tour stop has been more a case of feast or famine for Woods.

He has won the Buick Invitational and the Bridgestone Invitational six times each, and has never finished out of the top 10 on either golf course. He has won the Masters and PGA Championship four times each, but has never gone more than two years in the middle of the pack.

Bay Hill is where he won often, sometimes with one hand tied behind his back.

That's only a slight exaggeration. It was in 2003 when Woods won Bay Hill for a record fourth consecutive year. He suffered a stomach virus so severe in the final round that he had dry heaves and was dehydrated, yet he still won by 11 shots.

It was the King's course. It was Tiger's domain.

Or was.

Since that fourth consecutive victory, Woods has not finished better than 20th, his longest such drought of any tournament.

"I just haven't played well, simple as that," Woods said Wednesday. "This golf course, you have to play well on it in order to win the tournament. You can't go out there and slap it around and try and shoot something in the mid-60s here."

That makes this year even more intriguing, for Woods has won four straight times on the PGA Tour, five straight times around the world, six straight times when you throw in his silly-season Target World Challenge.

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