Woods justifies favourite tag with impressive start to Arnold Palmer Invitational

Woods justifies favourite tag with impressive start to Arnold Palmer Invitational

Tiger Woods justified his position as pre-tournament favourite with an impressive start to the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Thursday.

Woods is seeking a record ninth victory at Bay Hill in just his fifth PGA Tour event since undergoing spinal fusion surgery in April 2017, his fourth back operation in the space of three years.

The 42-year-old finished second to England's Paul Casey in the Valspar Championship on Sunday and carried on where he left off in Orlando with an opening 68 to lie one shot off the early clubhouse lead held by Jimmy Walker, who holed his second shot to the 18th for a closing eagle.

After starting from the 10th, Woods birdied the 12th, 13th and 16th to reach the turn in 33, but looked to have undone most of his good work with a wild tee shot on the third hole which finished up entangled in a mesh fence and was deemed out of bounds.

The former world number one appeared unhappy with the ruling as he took the headcover off his fairway wood and threw it behind him before making the lonely walk back to the tee, from where his third shot also sailed right.

A superb fourth shot cut around a tree found the edge of the green, but two putts from long range added up to a double-bogey six.

The smile was quickly back on the 14-time major winner's face as he birdied the fourth and sixth, both par fives, and it remained firmly in place as he followed a poor tee shot on the par-three seventh by holing from 70 feet for an unlikely birdie.

Woods also holed from 11 feet for par on the ninth, his final hole, after finding a greenside bunker with his approach and is now vying for favouritism for the Masters with world number one Dustin Johnson.

Patrick Reed, who bogeyed the 72nd hole in the Valspar Championship to miss out on a play-off with Casey, was alongside Woods on four under, with England's Justin Rose a shot behind after a remarkable fightback.

Rose was four over par after his first six holes, but birdied seven of the next 10 to card an opening 69.

- PA

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