2006: PGA Tour - Nifty 50

Grand Blanc, Mich.

This time, the moisture Tiger Woods wiped from his face as he stood on the final green was sweat, not tears. His emotional British Open triumph behind him – the first of his 11 majors he was unable to share with his late father, Earl – Woods got back to business last week outside a Motor City that knows a little something about blue-collar labor.

Woods’ main industry is winning, and nobody in golf is more proficient. At the Buick Open, one 66 begat another, and when Woods was done Aug. 6, he owned four of ’em, enough to secure his 50th career victory on the PGA Tour.

“I’ve had a lot of wonderful things happen to me in my career so far on Tour in 10 years,” said Woods, who, at 30, is three years younger than Jack Nicklaus was when Nicklaus collected his 50th Tour victory. “I’ve been really blessed. . . . It’s been a great ride.”

Woods reached a season-best 24 under par (264) and made a career-high 28 birdies to hold off hard-charging Jim Furyk, the gritty competitor who likely will partner with Woods in next month’s Ryder Cup in Ireland. Furyk closed with an 8-under 64, but when he failed to birdie any of his last three holes, he knew it would not be enough.

That’s life in the Tiger Era.

Where does the golf galaxy begin to measure Woods’ greatness? Consider some of these eye-opening numbers:

Woods earned $864,000 to push his tour-leading total to $5,127,563, surpassing the $5 million mark in season earnings for the eighth consecutive year.

He became the seventh member of the PGA Tour’s 50-win club and improved to 21 for 21 when leading

by more than one stroke after three rounds. All told,

he is now 36 for 39 in protecting 54-hole leads.

His victory was his second at the Buick Open, giving him 15 Tour events he has won more than once.

Woods won his 50th event in his 196th professional start – a winning percentage of 25.51.

“He’s probably the greatest player to ever play the game, and we get to watch him every week,” said Vaughn Taylor, who finished five shots behind Woods and earned valuable Ryder Cup points with his tie for fourth. “I can’t even imagine doing the things he’s done.”

At a sleepy summer event in Michigan situated halfway between the last two majors of the season, an all-star cast rose on the weekend. Woods was pursued by such stalwarts as Furyk and Vijay Singh, two players who have had success at Warwick Hills, as well as a bevy of others taking a liking to the birdie-friendly conditions.

The scene seemed set for a great Sunday shootout as long as Woods did his part by not running away. He answered with four birdies on his outward nine to keep his two-shot lead. There was a brief stumble at the short par-4 12th, where a wild drive led to a bogey, allowing Furyk to briefly share the lead.

But Woods never flinched. With an easy portion of the course still ahead of him, he shifted into a gear only he seems to possess. An approach from 105 yards at No. 13 led to a kick-in birdie, and at No. 15, the toughest hole on the course, he birdied yet again, this one set up by a monstrous, 198-yard 7-iron to 3 feet. His two-shot lead restored, Woods coasted home safely with some conservative play, hitting his target score of 66 for the fourth consecutive day.

Though he says he’s not big on “shootout-type” birdiefests, Woods has proved more than competitive in his forays to Warwick Hills, where he owns 31 consecutive sub-par rounds and never has finished worse than 11th (in eight starts).

Warwick Hills also plays to two of Furyk’s greatest strengths – straight driving and sound wedge play – and though he began Sunday five shots behind Woods, he was the one to make the loudest clamor. Furyk got to 8 under on his round through 15 holes, but simply ran out of birdies.

“I wish I gave myself more opportunities on 16 through 18,” Furyk said. “I’m happy with the round, but I’d have loved to have birdied one or two of the last three.”

As for Woods, his own measure of himself as a golfer is winning majors, and with the PGA Championship at Medinah – where he won the 1999 PGA – next in his crosshairs, Woods now is staring down the back nine of catching Nicklaus’ pro mark of 18. As for all-time Tour victories, the magic number is 82, posted by Sam Snead.

Can Woods ever catch Snead? “Hopefully,” he said.

“It’s going to be a lifetime, a career, to get to that point and attain something like that,” Woods said. “It took me 10 years to get here. Hopefully I can continue playing well over the next 10, 20 years.”

Count on it. By Monday morning, you can be certain he already was thinking about No. 51.

– Staff and wire reports

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