ORLANDO, Fla. – Tiger Woods is going to have to wait one more day to try to reclaim No. 1 in the world.
Moments after Woods made a 10-foot birdie putt on the second hole, a vicious thunderstorm packing gusts that topped out at 62 mph interrupted the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational and wiped out play until Monday.
The storm dumped nearly 1 1/2 inches on Bay Hill and formed small ponds in the fairways — there was even a fish in the middle of the 18th fairway. The wind toppled the TV tower behind the 10th green, which was a pile of metal poles, wood, mesh netting and had a stationary camera in the middle of it all.
About an hour after a tornado warning expired, officials said they would need time to clean up the course and let it drain. The final round was to resume at 10 a.m. Monday.
Woods is going after his eighth win at Bay Hill, which would return him to No. 1 in the world ranking for the first time since the last week of October in 2010.
He hit all of six shots on Sunday, enough to build a three-shot lead over Rickie Fowler, Keegan Bradley, John Huh and Ken Duke.
“At least we got a little activity in today, so we’re not completely stagnant,” Woods said before leaving. “We’ve dealt with this before.”
There was plenty of action on a short day, none more bizarre than Sergio Garcia.
The Spaniard’s tee shot on the 10th hole somehow came to rest about 15 feet up in an oak tree, sitting between two large branches. Garcia used a cart to jump into the tree, and after a few minutes, hit a one-handed, back-handed shot back to the fairway, before jumping some 8 feet back to the ground.
William McGirt was playing his shot from the fairway bunker on the other side and had no idea what Garcia was doing.
“I knew they were looking around the tree,” he said. “I didn’t know they were looking in the tree. I looked over and Sergio is up in the air, and I’m trying to figure out what in the hell he’s going to go. He called for a club. He’s hugging the tree. And the ball comes flying out.
“Are you kidding me?”
Two holes later, the horn sounded. McGirt said Garcia handed him the scorecard and said, “I’m out of here.” Garcia earlier had taken a 9 on the par-5 sixth hole.
Billy Horschel hit three tee shots in to the water on the sixth hole and made an 11.
Attribute that to the wind, which was gusting hard when the leaders teed off.
Mark Russell, the tour’s vice-president of competition, said officials discussed whether to play early Sunday from two tees to try to beat the storms. He said NBC Sports was involved in the discussions — Woods going for the win, with Fowler at his side is sure to boost ratings — and they rolled the dice.
“If we played early, it was going to be a tape-delay situation. People were going to know who won before it came on television, so it defeats our television partners,” he said. “They wanted to take a chance. They’ve been involved in several situations where we played early and it didn’t rain. It was just unfortunate.”
This marks the third time this year on the PGA Tour that a tournament finished one day later because of weather.
Woods won at Torrey Pines on a Monday when the Farmers Insurance Open lost a day to fog in San Diego. The Tournament of Championship at Kapalua didn’t start until Monday because of unusually high wind, and the 54-hole event was completed some 29 hours after the opening tee shot. Dustin Johnson won on a Tuesday.
It will be the third Monday finish in the 35-year history of this tournament.
The storm lasted about two hours, enough time to do plenty of damage. Tournament director Scott Wellington said his staff was just starting a full inspection.
“We had some TV cameras go down,” Wellington said. “We had some fencing and so forth. All of the big structures to my knowledge — I have not been out there yet — are OK. But we want to make sure they’re sound before we put people in them. We have some other structures, smaller structures, tents and so forth that did come down.”
Lawn chairs were toppled along the 18th fairway, where fans had been anticipating a big finish with Woods in the lead. Two chairs had blown into a bunker on the 14th, and seedlings from oak trees were scattered across several greens. Bunkers were washed out.
An osprey snagged a fish along the 18th and couldn’t hold on. A fan ran across the fairway to get the fish out of the rough, and then dove headfirst across the 4-inch deep puddle in the fairway, dropping the fish. It swam for about 3 feet before going motionless.
Russell said that while storms were in the forecast for Sunday afternoon, tournament and TV executives thought there was a chance it would go north and south. Instead, it took a direct hit on Bay Hill.
“This thing was moving fast, and if we got shut down for an hour, hour-and-a-half, we could still finish,” Russell said. “We wouldn’t have a problem there. But we got the very worst of it.”
And so the wait continues for Woods, who is going after his third win this year. Along with trying to reclaim No. 1 from Rory McIlroy, he can tie a PGA Tour record by winning Bay Hill for the eighth time. Sam Snead won the Greater Greensboro Open eight times.