Tiger Woods was one happy camper in the aftermath of his round yesterday. Nope, he didn’t take the Arnold Palmer Invitational by storm; by the time he ended his third trek through Bay Hill, he still stood five strokes behind provisional leader Henrik Stenson, with eight other players boasting of lower scores heading into the final 18 today. Nonetheless, he was aware of the big picture; including his second-round 72, he found himself hitting shots using more of his instinct and less of his mind.

It helped, of course, that Woods posted a heady 69, placing him at seven under par after 54 holes, still in position to pull off a comeback. And, considering the state of his body this time in 2017 and his game at the turn of the year, his unlikely-but-possible standing underscores a marked improvement. As he noted, “Maybe a low one tomorrow will give me a chance to kind of steal one from behind.” That’s what a position in the Top Ten does: give cause for hope without stretching the bounds of logic.

No doubt, Woods’ positive outlook is fueled by his love affair with the pride of Orlando. He has won a record eight times in The King’s tournament, and his familiarity certainly helped him shape shots — and roll in lengthy putts — yesterday. His familiarity with the terrain figures to assist him in putting up a sterling red mark early. And then who knows? Those ahead of him may back up a bit with the fairways becoming baked and the greens getting harder, nudging him up the leaderboard.

In any case, Woods will be competing with good vibes, and not just because he moved up seven spots yesterday. “I played well, scored well,” he said in his third-round post-mortem. “It was a good day all around,” punctuated by a morale-boosting birdie on the last hole. “Can’t complain about anything I did today. I really hit the ball solidly. I controlled it, and I hit a lot of beautiful putts.” What a difference half a year makes. And regardless of the number he posts today, he’s clearly moving in the right direction.


Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.