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Just for fun, type this into your search window: "Who owns Bay Hill?"
The first few results will give you the literal answer: Arnold Palmer, who purchased the Bay Hill Club and Lodge in 1974 and turned its Dick Wilson--designed championship course into his personal playground. But if you scroll down, you'll find plenty of claims that "Tiger Woods owns Bay Hill."
Palmer has the deed, you might say, but Tiger has the deeds.
Woods demonstrated that on Monday by winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational for the eighth time, tying Sam Snead's record for most PGA Tour victories in the same tournament. It was Woods's third triumph of the season and the 77th of his career, five fewer than Snead's record of 82 Tour victories, and it returned him to No. 1 in the World Ranking after months—nay, years—of swing rehab.
Tiger's ownership of Bay Hill was on people's minds even before he sealed his two-shot victory over Justin Rose in a final round interrupted by violent thunderstorms and an overnight wait. Palmer, at his pretournament press conference, floated an explanation that might have been written by Yogi Berra. "What I would suggest," said the King,
"is that the course is not overly long, but it's consistently long." Woods, meanwhile, didn't even try to explain his mastery of central Florida's best-known layout. "I don't know," he said with a rhetorical shrug. "It's just one of those courses."
To be precise, Bay Hill is one of four courses that Woods treats like a timeshare. He's a seven-time winner of the WGC-Cadillac Championship (on Doral Resort's Blue Monster Course in Miami), the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational (at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio) and the Farmer's Insurance Open (at Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla, Calif.). Torrey Pines, Woods pointed out last Saturday, was already an octopeat in his mind, "but I guess no one counts the U.S. Open."
At first glance, geography seems to be the common denominator for event dominators. Snead snared his eight Greater Greensboro Open wins in North Carolina, no more than five hours by mountain roads from his West Virginia home. Karrie Webb, the LPGA Hall of Famer, won the Australian Masters eight times at Royal Pines Resort in her native Queensland.
Woods, one can't help noticing, grew up less than 100 miles from Torrey Pines, and for 14 years he resided in the Isleworth subdivision of Windermere, Fla., fewer than 100 lob-wedge shots from Bay Hill. But the proximity theory doesn't explain Tiger's dominance in Akron. Neither does it add to our understanding of Jack Nicklaus and Augusta National, which the Golden Bear owned to the tune of six green jackets. (Nicklaus, from Ohio, is a longtime Florida resident.)
Exposure at a young age may be a factor. Woods was 15, in 1991, when he won the first of his three straight USGA Junior Amateur Championships on Arnie's course. In his first start there as a pro, in 1997, he tied for ninth. He won in his near-perfect season of 2000, and then reeled off three more in a row. Ever since your typical API resembles a production of Camelot with Palmer, as Arthur, giving Woods-Lancelot a grin and a thumbs-up from the King's box above the 18th green.