2005: PGA Tour - Woods continues WGC roll at Firestone

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AKRON, Ohio

If there was a sliver of daylight left in the PGA Tour’s race for Player of the Year, that door slammed shut on Sunday. Emphatically.

The World Golf Championships were created seven years ago to bring together the best players from around the world, but Tiger Woods has turned the annual stop at Firestone Country Club into an annuity.

Woods overcame some shaky putting in the final round of the NEC Invitational Aug. 21 by making the one that mattered, an 18-foot birdie putt that broke sharply from right to left and dove across the right edge of the cup on Firestone’s monster 16th hole, sending him to a one-shot victory over Chris DiMarco. The victory was Woods’ fourth at Firestone.

The putt at 16 was one Woods had seen before, and he put his past experience to work.

“I’ve had that putt for three or four years, and I miss it low every time,” Woods said. “I made sure I threw the ball out there a little bit more...and it just snapped at the end. I thought it was going to lip out, which was how my whole day was going.

“But it lipped in, which was sweet...I wanted to make one putt today. Just one.”

With the victory, Woods extended his streak of winning at least one WGC title to seven years. But it was an adventure to the very end, and the triumph wasn’t secured until Woods punched a 9-iron through the trees and onto the 18th green to set up a two-putt par to close with a 1-over 71.

Woods has won nine of the 18 World Golf Championships he has played, and he has earned $11.6 million from these events, more than 20 percent of his career earnings. “You started these too late,” he said of the WGC events.

Still, he has rarely had to work this hard on a Firestone course upon which he’s won four times in his last six trips.

Woods missed five putts inside 8 feet and trailed Kenny Perry by two shots when the duo made the turn. Even the birdie putt that finally gave him the lead required an approach from 193 yards over water. And it wasn’t over until he made yet another escape from the trees.

Woods finished at 6-under 274 and earned $1.3 million for his fifth victory of the year, one more than Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson, enough to end any debate about PGA Tour Player of the Year.

DiMarco, who lost to Woods in a playoff at the Masters, thought he might get another shot at him when he shot 68 to finish at 275. Playing four groups ahead of Woods, he had a 20-foot birdie attempt on the 18th hole that grazed the edge of the cup.

DiMarco watched Woods play the last three holes from Firestone’s dining room.

“If you’re hoping for him to make bogey, you didn’t do what you needed to do out there,” he said.

Paul McGinley, one of four players who had at least a share of the lead in the final round, fell out of contention with a bogey on the 17th and shot 72 to tie for third with Singh (67) and Ryan Palmer (69).

Perry, who seemed in control at 8 under as the final group made the turn, went into a tailspin coming home, making bogeys at five of six holes. He wound up tied for sixth after a final-round 74.

It was the first time Woods won with a final round over par since he shot 2-over 72 to win the American Express Championship – another WGC event – two years ago outside Atlanta.

Blustery conditions contributed to that, although mostly it was his putter.

Woods only made the hard ones, including a 15-foot bender on the 10th hole that gave him a share of the lead with Perry. Then he missed an 8-footer for par on the 11th, followed by a 5-foot birdie putt on the 13th that would have given him the outright lead.

“I just could not make a putt,” Woods said. “Either I hit good putts that didn’t go in, or I hit atrocious putts that weren’t even close.”

Woods walked to the 14th tee tapping his driver on the cart path until he reached the grass, when he pounded the club into the ground. He could sense the NEC Invitational slipping away.

And then he heard a groan behind him from the 17th green, and he knew the score.

DiMarco decided to go at the flag and wound up long in the deep grass, leading to bogey. Before long, his score of 5 under was posted on the leaderboards. Woods figured birdie chances would be rare because of the tucked pins on Nos. 15 and 17, and because it is difficult to find the fairway on No. 18.

“My realistic chance was 16,” he said.

He hadn’t hit the fairway there all week, and that was a streak that went unbroken on Sunday, as he blasted his tee shot into the right trees. But he laid up conservatively to 193 yards, and with a little wind at his back, ripped a 7-iron over the top of the flagstick to set up the birdie opportunity.

Woods now has 45 career victories, moving past Walter Hagen into seventh on the all-time list. Twelve of those triumphs have come in three events, with four victories apiece at the NEC, the Masters and the Bay Hill Invitational. He also won for the seventh time in Ohio, where he owns three Memorial victories.

In contention for the first time since the Masters, DiMarco birdied three of his first six holes to get into the mix, but made too many mistakes down the stretch. He had back-to-back bogeys on the 12th and 13th holes, and missed the 17th green in the wrong place – long. The best he could do was chip to 15 feet.

“Bridesmaid is getting old,” said DiMarco. “Maybe this will be good for me. Maybe this will light a fire under me.”

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