DORAL, Fla. (AP) — Geoff Ogilvy left Bay Hill on a positive note last week after closing with a 66 to salvage a finish in the top 20, and he got back to his room in time to flip on the TV and watch the final hole of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
There was Tiger Woods, in a familiar red shirt and equally familiar position to win. He was tied for the lead and facing a slick 25-foot putt on the final hole for the victory. The highlight is among his best: The putt breaks sharply to the right and drops for birdie, and Woods slams his cap to the ground in celebration.
“It’s never surprising when he holes it, but it’s always amazing,” Ogilvy said Thursday after a bogey-free round of 7-under 65 at the CA Championship, gave him a share of the first-round lead with Miguel Angel Jimenez on a day the wind shifted and the scores fell.
“It’s always fun to watch,” he said. “We’re all impressed. Hopefully, none of us are scared. I mean, I’m not scared, I just want to win golf tournaments. And he’s very impressive, but I don’t go to be thinking about it.”
The fine line between impressed and nervous has yet to be determined at this World Golf Championship for a couple of reasons.
Only one round is in the books on the Blue Monster, and Woods was only two shots behind after three-putting the final hole for a 67, leaving him in a group with Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott. A week ago, Woods was five shots behind after the first round, seven shots behind going into the weekend and still won.
Plus, Woods was bordering on ballistic after his round, in which he picked up three birdies on the par 5s.
“I didn’t really do anything all that special today,” Woods said. “I just kind of hung in there and took care of the par 5s, and made a couple of other birdies here and there. But all in all, just kind of ground it out.”
If it wasn’t anything spectacular and he still was only two shots bad, that seems a like bad sign for the rest of the 78 players gathered at Doral for this World Golf Championship.
But there was a sense after one day that no one was going to lay down.
Ogilvy is a tough customer, a former U.S. Open champion who is still shaking off some rust after taking a month off over the holidays when his second child was born. Jimenez, playing at Doral for the first in his career, is a Spaniard not known to get too shook up over anything. Give him a cigar, a nice bottle of red wine and a few birdies, and he is happy.
Jimenez lost to Woods in a playoff at this tournament in 1999, when it was called the American Express Championship and played amid the cork trees of Valderrama in southwestern Spain.
One shot behind was Stewart Cink, who is playing as consistently as anyone except the world’s No. 1 player. Cink already has played in the final group three times this year, although only one loss sticks with him. He was eight shots behind Woods at Torrey Pines and played in the finals against him at the Accenture Match Play Championship, neither an ideal situation.
But two weeks ago, Cink was four shots ahead early in the final round at Innisbrook until a meltdown on the back nine paved the way for Sean O’Hair to win.
Is he ready for another crack at winning for the first time since 2004?
“I’m very anxious to do that,” Cink said. “It’s just one of those things that you need to get back in the fire right away and test yourself and keep going. If it takes 50 tournaments for me to win another one, then I’ll be happy with the 51st.”
Such failures are part of the learning process for Cink.
“Let me just say that not everybody out here is Tiger Woods,” he said. “He’s making it look easy. It’s not easy.”
About the only thing easy on Thursday was the Blue Monster, especially after the wind turned in of the opposite direction and made the fearsome 18th so easy that most players were hitting a wedge.
Ogilvy stuck his into 8 feet for his seventh birdie and a 65. Jimenez birdied four of the last five holes for his 65.
Mickelson got hot after getting wet, dumping an approach into the water on No. 3 for a double bogey, then rallying with four birdies over his final six holes for a 67.
“This is by far the easiest wind for this golf course,” Mickelson said.
Only two dozen players in the 79-man field failed to break par, and the average score was 70.9.
Woods also got hot, but only after he finished in the rain with a three-putt bogey from 70 feet. He kept his head down as the rain fell harder and never broke stride as he followed a series of winding stairs and back doors, each step taking him farther from the Blue Monster. A security guard politely asked for an autograph, and Woods reached for a pen and forced a smile.
Woods hasn’t lost a tournament since September, a streak that includes six official victories around the world, the last title coming four days ago with that 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole at Bay Hill.
Apparently, he’s working on another streak – the endless pursuit of perfection.
“Yeah, I’m (ticked),” Woods said with a cold glare when someone asked if he was bothered by the bogey at the end of his round. “You three-putt 18, you’re not going to be happy.”
Strange, because it was Ogilvy who referred to the Blue Monster at Doral as a “happy place,” for Woods, and that’s ordinarily the case. He has won here the last two years, and won this World Golf Championship six times in eight years.
Adding another title is still within reach.