Tiger Woods, who can overtake Rory McIlroy for World No. 1 by defending his title this week at Bay Hill, says he and ski star Lindsey Vonn went public as a couple to combat “stalker-azzi.”
A day after Woods and Vonn told the world they were dating and shared photos on their Facebook pages, Woods explained why they made that decision at a news conference on the eve of the $6.2 million US PGA Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Photographers seeking a valuable picture of the couple had put at risk the health of Woods’ two children with ex-wife Elin Nordegren — five-year-old daughter Sam Alexis and four-year-old son Charlie.
Woods, a 14-time major champion who will try to close the gap on the record 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus when he plays at next month’s Masters, has spent a record 623 weeks atop the world rankings, but none since October of 2010 after injuries and an infamous sex scandal saw him stumble from the top 50.
World No. 2 Woods has won five titles in the past year, a run that began at Palmer’s event last year when he won his first PGA title since the scandal. This year, Woods has already collected triumphs at Torrey Pines and Doral.
But doubters say he will not be fully back to the form of glory days until he ends a major title drought that dates to the 2008 US Open.
Woods, whose return to success has coincided with his romance with Vonn, seeks his eighth career title at Bay Hill. He would become the first man to win the same PGA event eight times, although he already has eight career victories on the same course from seven PGA titles and the US Open at Torrey Pines.
After Nicklaus offered earlier this month that he thought Woods would pass his major title total but that at age 37 he had “better get with it”, fellow golf icon Palmer said he gives Woods a chance but one that shrinks every year.
Top-ranked McIlroy, who is dating ninth-ranked women’s tennis star Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, is idle this week but the field at Bay Hill still offers more than a few challengers who could deny Woods despite his history there.
Woods will be paired alongside England’s Justin Rose and reigning British Open champion Ernie Els of South Africa, who won at Bay Hill in 2010 and 1998.
Brandt Snedeker is making his first start since straining a rib muscle in a victory at Pebble Beach last month.
Reigning Masters champion Bubba Watson and reigning US Open champion Webb Simpson are also in the field, as is 2011 PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley.