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Golf returns with a roar on Tiger’s win

ORLANDO, Fla. – Tiger Woods was down to his last shot at Bay Hill, tied for the lead as he measured a 15-foot birdie putt.

That’s when he heard a lone voice among thousands of people packed into the grandstand behind the 18th green.

“Some guy yelled out ‘playoff,’ ” Woods said with a smile.

What was the guy thinking?

Maybe he missed the Arnold Palmer Invitational the two times Woods made a 25-foot birdie putt on the last hole to win.

Perhaps it was his first time to see the world’s No. 1 player, and he wasn’t aware that Woods has been making big putts like this since he was a teenager.

It could be that Woods had been out of golf so long, the man simply wanted to see more of him.

Woods knew the putt was going in when it was a few feet from the hole. He crouched and began to backpedal, then planted on his left knee – more proof the knee is stronger than ever – to wind up and pound his fist like a sledgehammer.

The putt capped a dramatic final hour at Bay Hill that ended in near darkness and reminded golf what it had been missing during Woods’ eight-month absence while recovering from surgery.

“It’s just about being there and somehow timing it right, and making putts at the right time, and pulling off shots at the right time,” Woods said. “We’re all trying to do it.”

As usual, the timing could not have been better.

Because of a two-hour rain delay, the final round did not start until just before 3 p.m. Eastern, and NBC Sports decided to stay on through the conclusion, stretching the broadcast into prime time.

The last time golf was in prime time on a network? The U.S. Open, when Woods birdied the last hole to force a playoff.

The overnight rating for Bay Hill – a 4.9 with a 10 share – was the highest for any golf tournament since the U.S. Open. It even topped the two majors last summer that Woods didn’t play.

The rating peaked at 7.8 for the final 30 minutes, when Woods took the outright lead for the first time in 286 days, gave it right back with a bogey, then made his final birdie for the one-shot victory.

There have been some significant moments in golf since Woods had surgery after the U.S. Open.

Padraig Harrington won consecutive majors at Royal Birkdale and Oakland Hills. Anthony Kim emerged as a rising star. The Americans won the Ryder Cup. Phil Mickelson rediscovered his game just in time to greet Woods’ return.

Even so, nothing makes golf as compelling as Woods winning, especially with some back-nine theatrics on display at Bay Hill.

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