Mission Impossible:
Holding Tiger at Bay

Mar 16, 2004 7:00 AM

If sports fans can tear away from March Madness between commercials, they may want to check out Bay Hill to see if Tiger Woods can win for an unprecedented fifth straight year.

Woods won last year by an unbelievable 11 strokes, going the final 44 holes without a bogey in posting a 19-under par 269 total. Tiger’s incredible dominance of Arnold Palmer’s tourney began in 2000 with a four stroke win over runnerup Davis Love III. Woods won in 2001, beating Phil Mickelson by a shot and made it three straight in 2002 with a four-stroke win over second place finisher Michael Campbell.

The event has been part of the PGA Tour since 1966 when Lionel Hebert won it as the Florida Citrus Open Invitational. Arnie won his own tourney in 1971, Lee Trevino in 1975, Tom Kite in 1982 and ’89 and Loren Roberts in 1994 and ’95.

Paul Goydos won in 1996 when the event became known as the Bay Hill Invitational. Mickelson and Ernie Els followed in ’97 and ’98 respectively and Tim Herron took the crown in ’99 before Woods took over.

Kirk Triplett, Kenny Perry, Stewart Cink and Brad Faxon each tied for second last year at 8-under par. Jeff Maggert could be a good longshot, having finished second in 1996 and ’98.

Arnie’s event is one of the most popular of the year and precedes the "fifth major" ”” The Players Championship at Ponte Vedra Beach outside Jacksonville. The Masters is two weeks after the TPC.

Vijay Singh and John Daly will return to the golf wars after taking two weeks off. Todd Hamilton, last week’s the surprise winner at the Honda Classic, is entered. But chances of Hamilton going back-to-back are microscopic in this terrific field.

Our pick for at least a top 10 showing is Love, who shot 69 in the final round at the Honda to finish just one shot behind Hamilton. Love has five top 10 finishes in six starts and has been third or better four times. Also deserving some consideration is Mark O’Meara, fresh off a win at Dubai where he beat a field that included Woods and Els.

Aaron Baddeley is another longshot worth watching. Baddeley was runnerup at Tucson and was tied for fifth at the Honda after three rounds before slumping to a 75 to finish tied for 21st.