Tiger's happy hunting ground bites him back

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The Independent Online

Another tournament, another low point for Tiger Woods. For the first time in 11 appearances at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Florida, the former world No 1 opened up with an over-par score yesterday.

Granted, Woods's one-over 73 was far from disastrous on a tough, windy first round which saw Graeme McDowell, the US Open champion, shoot an 80. Nevertheless, Woods, who has won the event six times, is out of the top 30, seven behind the leader, Spencer Levin, and looking extremely doubtful to break his 19-tournament losing run.

The 18th would have hurt most. This is the hole where Woods has staged so many grandstand finishes, most pertinently on his last two visits to Bay Hill when final-green putts has seen him lift the title. This time it was a lame bogey. Rough off the tee, lay up, chip, two putts. Hardly the Woods legend.

Of course, it is a recoverable situation, particularly as he is almost certain to benefit from the easier conditions this morning. But this year's form does not suggest he is up to producing the huge morale-booster with which to enter The Masters in two weeks' time.

As it stands, Levin, an unheralded compatriot, is setting the pace on six-under, three shots clear of Rickie Fowler and Hunter Mahan. England's Brian Davisand the reigning Masters champion, Phil Mickelson, are among those another shot back on two-under.

Way back is McDowell. The world No 4 slumped to an eight-over-par total, carding six bogeys, a triple-bogey eight on the par-five sixth and just one birdie to lie joint last in the 120-strong field.

The Ulsterman had predicted the course would provide a rigorous test this week and was proved right on a windy introduction. Starting on the back nine, McDowell dropped shots on the 11th, 15th and 17th to be out in 39. Two more bogeys followed on the first and second before McDowell looked to have stopped the rot with a birdie on the third. However, the worst was yet to come with an eight on the par-five sixth, where McDowell went for the green in two but found the water on the dog-leg hole.