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"I mentioned the young players because I think they are coming on and they are going to be factors in the future, and they will have some effect on how Tiger plays," Palmer said. "You can say, 'Oh, those kids won't bother him.' Well, that's not quite right. I think he'll be aware of those young guys as competitors, and that's going to be a factor. And I think any one of them could break out and win the Masters."
In other words Tiger notices the kids the same way Arnie noticed Jack and Jack noticed Watson.
Tiger played with Dustin Johnson and Gary Woodland on Thursday and Friday, and labeled himself the Corey Pavin of the group. At least Tiger was around for the weekend. Johnson (page 80), one of the Masters favorites, and Woodland, who won the previous week at the Transitions Championship, played two rounds each in a combined 16 over par.
Even with a handful of poor swings at Bay Hill, Woods announced that his game is trending in the right direction. "It was a very good week and a week I needed to see," he said. "This year I've felt as if I played my way into shape. Early in the year was disappointing because the conditions showed some signs of weakness that I had to work on. Now it's feeling very, very good."
Maybe it is, but it was odd seeing Woods slide into the passenger seat of a white Mercedes and leave Bay Hill on Sunday with the sun still high in the sky. Woods, a six-time winner of the event, once did his best work at Arnie's place at dusk, rolling in birdie putts amid camera flashes and nearly tackling his caddie in celebration on the final green. This year Woods splashed his approach shot on the 72nd, walking off with a double bogey and a 24th-place finish. "Caught between clubs," was all Woods would say.
Bay Hill still had more than enough at stake—a PGA Tour title for some, an Augusta badge for others. Marc Leishman, an Australian who played the final round in a light-green shirt, finished two shots behind Laird and headed for the Lone Star State.
"I'll be playing Houston and then, hopefully, Augusta," Leishman said. "Hopefully, I can do something special."
Marino doesn't have a PGA Tour win—he now has four runner-up finishes—but he has a ticket to the Masters thanks to his 14th-place finish at Augusta National a year ago. (The top 15 get invited back the next year.) At Bay Hill, Marino charged up the leader board in the final round until a double bogey at the par-3 17th from a buried lie in the bunker dropped him out of the lead. His closing birdie after a brilliant approach shot to eight feet left him a stroke short of a playoff.
"One hole cost me the tournament," said Marino, who was off to Augusta National, hoping a few practice rounds among the azaleas would salve the wounds of another near miss.
Palmer has worked hard to get to know this new generation of players. On March 7 he played with Rickie Fowler at the annual Seminole pro-member, adding another layer to a budding friendship.