Woods earns 11th career major win at British Open

Updated: July 24, 2006, 10:36 PM ET
Associated Press

HOYLAKE, England -- The emotions had been trapped in Tiger Woods since he stood at his father's grave two months ago, set loose only after he tapped in his final putt Sunday to win the British Open.

More on Woods eschewing his driver
We can all learn from Tiger's on-course decision making at this week's British Open. Although the overall yardage was 7,258, the course was playing much shorter due to the dry conditions. Tiger took advantage, utilizing 3-woods and 2-irons off the tee. The result was greater accuracy, as he hit almost 86 percent of all fairways, leading to three eagles, 19 birdies, 43 pars, and only seven bogeys for the week.

When playing with the recreational golfer, I am often amazed at how many times driver is used when the situation begs for accuracy over length. Whether you're an amateur or a pro, the driver is the hardest club to hit straight. Controlling your ball flight with a fairway wood or hybrid club will equal more fairways hit, allowing you to be more aggressive into the green.

Many golf courses provide yardage books with distances measured to fairway bunkers and hazards. Select the club that will give you the best chance to either stay short of the trouble or carry it. Think your way around the golf course more and I guarantee you will shoot lower scores.

-- John Stahlschmidt
Teaching Professional, ESPN Golf Schools presented by Lexus

It was his 11th major championship, but the first one they couldn't share.

He plucked the ball out of the cup, turned slightly and started to grin when a mixture of sadness and satisfaction washed over his face and he screamed out, "Yes!"

Woods buried his head in the shoulder of caddie Steve Williams, sobbing uncontrollably, his chest heaving. Then he found his wife, Elin, and hugged her for the longest minute, tears still streaming down his face.

"I'm kind of the one who bottles things up a little bit and moves on," he said. "But at that moment, it just came pouring out. And of all the things that my father has meant to me and the game of golf, I just wish he would have seen it one more time."

It sure would have looked familiar.

Woods was ruthless as ever on the brown, baked links of Royal Liverpool, relying more on brains than brawn.

He hit driver only one time the entire week -- the 16th hole of the first round -- and relied on iron play that was so impeccable his caddie kept a sheet of paper of all the shots Woods missed.

There were only three of them.

"I don't think anyone has ever hit long irons that well," Williams said.

It carried Woods to a 5-under 67 and a two-shot victory over Chris DiMarco, making him the first player since Tom Watson in 1982-83 to win golf's oldest championship in consecutive years.

It was his first victory since his father, Earl, died May 3 after a brutal bout with cancer. Some questioned whether Woods could regain his focus after taking nine weeks off, especially after he returned to the U.S. Open and missed the cut for the first time in a major.

Tiger Woods
AP Photo/Jon SuperWoods earned his 11th title in 39 career major starts as a professional.

Turns out, Woods had an answer for everyone.

And even when DiMarco made a charge with another gritty rally in a major to close with a 68, Woods responded with three straight birdies that allowed him to stride confidently up the 18th fairway at Hoylake and toward the claret jug.

No one could stop Woods from winning his 11th career major at age 30. He is tied with Walter Hagen for second on the career list and is one step closer to the 18 professional majors won by Jack Nicklaus, the only mark that matters to Woods.

He had to work for this one because of DiMarco, equally emotional and inspired while coping with a more recent loss.

DiMarco's mother, Norma, died of a heart attack July 4 in Colorado, and he made sure his father joined him on this trip to the northwest of England as a chance to heal. DiMarco, who pushed Woods into a playoff at the Masters last year, did all he could to deliver.

He made a 25-foot birdie on the par-3 13th to pull within one shot of Woods, then made a 50-foot par save on the 14th to stay in the game, a putt that rattled the cup and made everyone wonder if he had help from above.

"I had a lot of divine intervention out there," DiMarco said. "I had my mother with me all week."

Woods followed with another low, penetrating iron into 8 feet on the 14th for a birdie. And after DiMarco scrambled for a birdie on the 16th to keep his hopes alive, Woods answered with an 8-foot birdie into the heart of the hole at No. 15.

Woods finished at 18-under 270, missing an 8-foot birdie putt that would have matched his record (19 under) set at St. Andrews six years ago.

His father was with him for his first taste of links golf in the 1995 Scottish Amateur at Carnoustie, when Woods was a 19-year-old amateur. As he walked up the 18th fairway with a two-shot lead, his ball safely behind the green, memories of Dad poured forth.

"After the last putt, I realized my dad's never going to see this again, and I wish he could have seen this one last time," Woods said at the trophy presentation. "He was out there today keeping me calm. I had a very calm feeling the entire week, especially today."

With this victory ...
Here's what Tiger Woods accomplished with his British Open win on Sunday:
• Ties Walter Hagen for second on the all-time major championships list as a professional with 11. Jack Nicklaus has 18.
• Becomes the 19th player in Open Championship history to win the tournament three times.
• Becomes the first player to win back-to-back Open Championships since Tom Watson (1982-83).
• Surpasses the $60-million mark in career PGA Tour official money with $60,034,324.
• Wins in defense of a title for the 14th time in his career.
Source: PGA Tour

For DiMarco, his third runner-up finish in the last eight majors came with a consolation prize. He earned enough Ryder Cup points to move from No. 21 to No. 6 in the standings, virtually making him a lock to be on the U.S. team in Ireland two months from now.

Ernie Els, among three players who started the day one shot behind, was the only one to catch him, briefly. He couldn't keep up with Woods, lost ground to DiMarco and had to settle for a 1-under 71 to finish alone in third at 275.

Jim Furyk birdied two of the last three holes for a 71 and fourth place.

Masters champion Phil Mickelson finished before the leaders even began the final round. Coming off his collapse in the U.S. Open, he was never a factor during the weekend and closed with a 70 to finish 13 shots behind in a tie for 22nd.

Even with so many players in contention on the gustiest day of the week, it didn't take long to sort out the contenders.

Furyk, two shots behind and the only U.S. Open victim who contended at Royal Liverpool, dropped shots on his first two holes and quickly fell out of the race. So did Angel Cabrera, with a triple bogey at No. 2.

Still, the biggest slide belonged to Sergio Garcia.

With his best chance ever to prove he could stand toe-to-toe with Woods, the 26-year-old Spaniard had three-putt bogeys on the second and third holes to slip three shots behind. Then he found a fairway bunker on the par-5 fifth and had to scramble for par as Woods was making eagle.

Garcia closed with a 73, the second time this year he has played with Woods in the final group and didn't break par.

Els had a two-putt birdie on the par-5 fifth to join Woods at 13 under, but that didn't last long. Woods threaded an iron up the front of the fifth green to 25 feet, then raised his putter aloft in his left hand when the eagle putt fell.

It was an icy, methodical way to celebrate such a big putt, but that's what Woods brought to the links for the final round.

He had a plan -- control his tee shots with a 2-iron or 3-wood -- and he stuck to it. This was Woods at his absolute dullest, which was how he mapped out his final round. Warm applause followed him around Hoylake as he found fairways and the middle of the green, taking advantage of the par 5s.

Only when DiMarco applied the heat did Woods respond.

Clinging to a one-shot lead after his only bogey of the round at No. 12, Woods lagged a 60-foot putt to within inches for par at the 13th, then strung together three straight birdies to give himself a comfortable margin walking up the 18th green.

It was his 49th career victory, and the $1.3 million for first place put him atop the money list and pushed him over $60 million for his career.

The next stop for Woods is the PGA Championship at Medinah, near Chicago, where he won in 1999.

Woods now has three British Open titles, the same as Nicklaus, and his victory at Hoylake carried another comparison. The first major Nicklaus won after his father died in 1970 also was the British Open.

What would Earl Woods have thought of this victory?

"He would have been very proud," Woods said. "He was always on my case about thinking my way around the golf course and not letting emotions get the better of you."

He didn't. Not until he had the claret jug firmly in his grasp.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press