x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Tiger Woods is golf's creature of habit

If Tiger Woods can win an eighth title at Bay Hill this weekend, he will supplant Rory McIlroy as the world No 1, writes Steve Elling.

Tiger Woods has already won the Arnold Palmer Invitational seven times, including in 2012. David Cannon / AFP
Tiger Woods has already won the Arnold Palmer Invitational seven times, including in 2012. David Cannon / AFP

By his own admission, Tiger Woods is fixated on routine and ritual, crucial parts of his personal and professional fabric.

From his warm-up sessions on the range to minutiae of his life, Woods like things a certain way. He was famous for making the bed in his hotel room, and when it was noted that he never let his former caddie, Steve Williams, drive their shared courtesy car, it was suggested that the former world No 1 was something of a control freak.

Said Williams: "You think?"

The pattern certainly holds true on the course, as Woods this week returns to Orlando as the defending champion at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge, where he seeks his eighth win as a PGA Tour member. That a familiarity freak like Woods snapped a 30-month winless streak at Bay Hill last year was hardly shocking.

Like a milkman on a prescribed route, Woods has settled into a pattern of knocking on certain doors. He has won 40 of his 76 career US titles on seven tracks: Torrey Pines (eight), Bay Hill and Firestone Country Club (seven each), Muirfield Village and Cog Hill (five each), plus Augusta National and Doral (four each).

He changes his swing more often than his schedule. His two wins this year are at Torrey Pines and Doral. Of his five wins over the past 52 weeks – no player has amassed more – four were logged at the aforementioned venues. Elsewhere, since the start of 2008, he has claimed two victories at venues where he had never before won.

Like winning a World Golf Championships event, the creature-of-habit win totals can be viewed as both a positive or negative. The WGCs are short-field events with no 36-hole cut. Then again, they are filled with the best players in the game, so the talent pool is deeper. Woods has 17 WGC titles. No other player has more than three.

Top players are free to enter events of their choosing, and Woods long ago factored out unsuccessful locales such as Riviera in Los Angeles, a one-hour drive from where he grew up. Some places, because of design or past experience, siphon confidence and make for a poor fit. But his scheduling rut seemingly underscores an inability to adapt, too.

With a victory at Bay Hill – Woods for 14 years lived only a few kilometres away – he can pass Rory McIlroy for the top spot in the rankings. Yes, we like his chances, too.

So, if is accepted that there are horses for courses, as the saying goes, then why not alleys for cats?

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