2006: Romancing the 'stone

Akron, Ohio

To say it was a strange week for Tiger Woods at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational would be a massive understatement.

Woods ended his second round by hitting a 9-iron over the green, onto the clubhouse roof and down the other side, his ball eventually finishing in the hands of a clubhouse chef. A day later, he made a rare trip on the bogey train, making four in a row, his longest such streak in nearly 10 years as a pro.

Under darkening clouds in the final round Aug. 27, he went from a two-shot deficit to a three-shot lead in a span of four holes, then lost a three-shot lead over the final three holes to slip into a playoff.

“I was very lucky to even be in the playoff,” Woods said.

Of course, the only thing that wasn’t different was the way things ended. When he ripped an 8-iron through the driving rain to 8 feet on his fourth extra hole against Ryder Cup teammate Stewart Cink, it meant this edition at Firestone South would end the way four others had previously. That is, with Woods hoisting the winner’s trophy yet again at a WGC event.

Woods now has won five times at Firestone, his most on any golf course on the PGA Tour. (He has won four times each at Augusta National, Bay Hill and Torrey Pines.)

His latest winning streak required more than a little luck. Woods now has won four consecutive starts, his longest winning streak since he won six in a row at the end of 1999 and the beginning of 2000.

That was Woods at his peak, and he might be heading there again. He doesn’t always win easily, but he finds a way. At Firestone South, after a weekend during which his long game was anything but sharp, this one could have been chalked up to sheer mental toughness.

“I’m just happy to come out on top because, as I said, I didn’t really have any game today and I was just trying to hang around with my putter, and I did that today on the back nine,” Woods said.

“All in all, very lucky.”

Cink, who birdied two of his last three holes to force the playoff at 10-under 270, missed an 8-foot par putt to win on the third extra hole. He was facing a 6-footer to save par at 17 when Woods buried his 8-foot birdie putt to seize the playoff.

In 21 starts at the WGC events, Woods now owns 11 titles (and $14.4 million in earnings).

“I didn’t convert, and he did,” Cink said. “That’s why he has the trophy.”

Woods won his 52nd PGA Tour title on the 10-year anniversary of his famous “Hello, world” greeting in Milwaukee.

The triumph moved him out of a tie with Billy Casper and into a tie with Byron Nelson for fifth place

on the all-time list. Only Arnold Palmer (62), Ben Hogan (64), Jack Nicklaus (73) and Sam Snead (82) have won more.

Cink was looking for a peculiar repeat.

Two years ago, he validated Hal Sutton’s decision to make him a captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup by winning at Firestone. The same week Tom Lehman picked him for this year’s team, Cink nearly delivered his first victory since that WGC title in 2004.

“There were a lot of highs and lows,” Cink said. “Unfortunately, I finished on a low.”

Cink had a shot to win on the first three playoff holes – a 20-foot chip that grazed the lip at No. 18, an 18-foot putt that missed on the high side at No. 17, and an 8-foot par putt on the 18th again that missed to the right.

Woods (68) and Cink (69) each had to make testy 3-footers for par on the 18th hole in regulation – Woods after leaving his 20-foot putt from the fringe short, Cink after lagging from 90 feet at the front of the green. Jim Furyk closed with 68 to finish one shot behind, making a 10-foot par save on the 18th to give himself a chance.

Late Sunday night, Woods and the U.S. Ryder Cup team left on a charter for Ireland to play practice rounds at The K Club in preparation for the Ryder Cup Sept. 22-24.

From there, Woods was bound for Norton, Mass., and this week’s Deutsche Bank Championship, where he’ll be gunning for his fifth consecutive victory.

Asked if there were any added pressure, he said, “It doesn’t change. I’m just there to win.”

It’s something he does well. And as Woods showed once more in Akron, he finds lots of ways to get the job done.

– Staff and wire reports

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