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Woods anxious to be a contender again

ORLANDO, Fla. -- A toddler sitting on his father's shoulder behind the third green at Bay Hill broke the silence of Wednesday morning with a comment that made the gallery laugh and caused Tiger Woods to break into a big smile.

"I hope you win, Tiger," the boy said.

"Me, too," Woods replied.

That's usually not asking much of Woods, especially at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Woods is not as dominant at Bay Hill as other PGA Tour courses, although there is no ignoring his six victories, including the last two times he played with birdie putts on the last hole.

Those are distant memories.

Woods returns to Bay Hill with his game progressing at a rate that not even he knows. He has gone 16 months without winning, and while his last competitive round was a 66 on the last day at Doral, he has yet to perform with something at stake.

Is this the week he starts turning around his fortunes? Woods won't count himself out, and neither will the tournament host.

"I've obviously been watching his game, just like everyone else has," Palmer said. "I feel like Tiger has a golf game that he can come to the surface any time. I think that's certainly a possibility here. I would just not count him out at all.

"I think he's capable of winning any time."

Woods is the best player of his generation. The sheer numbers support that. Lately, however, his road to the Masters has been rather bumpy.

What's alarming about Woods is that not only has he failed to win, he's not even coming close. He has not finished closer than five shots from the lead since the U.S. Open last summer.

He attributed that to what he calls the most dramatic swing change of his career -- greater than the change under Butch Harmon after the '97 Masters, and greater than when he went to Hank Haney in 2004.

"They are bigger changes, and it's taken a little bit of time," Woods said. "Then again, I've showed some good signs of late. The Sunday round at Doral was back to what I know I can do."

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