New girl, new outlook for an upbeat Tiger Woods

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New girl, new outlook for an upbeat Tiger Woods

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Tiger Woods, right, jokes with his caddie Joe LaCava on the eighth hole during the pro-am of the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament in Orlando, Florida on Wednesday. [AP/NEWSIS]

ORLANDO, Florida - With two wins in his last four starts Tiger Woods appears to have found his groove, found a new girlfriend and by the end of the week could find himself back at the top of the world golf rankings.

Woods heads into Thursday’s start of the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a little extra spring to his step, fresh off a victory at the WGC-Cadillac championship and playing on a Bay Hill layout that has been a happy hunting ground for the 14-time major winner.

Seven times, including last year, Woods has triumphed at “Arnie’s Place,” and one more victory on Sunday would match Sam Snead’s PGA Tour record for most wins in a single event.

But despite being back in near peak form, it is Woods’ personal life that is once again in the headlines after confirming he and alpine World Cup ski sensation Lindsey Vonn are dating.

“We’re very happy where we are at but also we wanted to limit the stalk-a-rassi and all those sleazy Web sites that are out there following us,” Woods told reporters on Wednesday in explaining the reasons behind his surprise announcement this week. “We basically devalued the first photos. Unfortunately that’s just the way it is in our society right now.”

Following Woods’ tumultuous fall from grace, the stars seem to be aligning as he rebuilds his life and image after the scandalous and very public breakup of his marriage.

Having already supplanted Rory McIlroy and his tennis star girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki as the sporting world’s power couple, Woods could also nudge the Northern Irishman out of top spot in the rankings on Sunday.

After a staggering 623 total weeks (including streaks of 264 and 281 consecutive) as number one, Woods has not sat atop the rankings for 29 months, a barren stretch that included two and a half years without a PGA Tour win.

With his personal life in order and his swing overhaul almost complete, Woods has set himself a lofty goal.

“I don’t want to become as good as I was, I want to be better,” declared Woods. “To get back to number one I need to win this week. Not too complicated. I don’t think people realize how hard it is to become number one in the world.”

While getting to number one may be hard work, Woods has made winning at Bay Hill look easy.

He won four straight Invitationals from 2000 to 2003 and claimed back-to-back titles in 2008 and 2009, but his most important victory came last year when he ended his PGA Tour trophy drought. It marked a turning point for Woods, who has gone on to win four more times since his Bay Hill breakthrough. Reuters

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