Tiger takes Doral for second straight year
MIAMI -- Tiger Woods knew he had to keep making birdies to stay ahead of the pack, and he delivered the kind of shots that make him so difficult to beat.
Everything changed on the 18th hole Sunday in the Ford Championship.
All he needed was a bogey.
He did that, too.
With a one-shot lead, his ball in the rough and a 9-iron in his hand, Woods watched from 170 yards away as David Toms ran his 60-foot putt to the bottom of the green, then missed the next one to fall two shots behind.
"I just said, 'Anything in the back bleachers, right bleachers, just anything over there to the right and over the water was all I had to do," Woods said. "I was just trying to play for 5. I wasn't even trying to make par."
Despite a bogey-bogey finish on the Blue Monster, Woods closed with a 3-under 69 for a one-shot victory over Toms and Colombian rookie Camilo Villegas. It was the 13th time he has successfully defended a title on the PGA Tour, and he became the first player in 25 years to win back-to-back at Doral.
Even more frightening for his peers is that Woods appears to be hitting his stride.
He now has won four of his last six tournaments (two overseas), with the exceptions being a third-round loss in the Match Play Championship and withdrawing from the Nissan Open with the flu when he was 11 shots behind.
"I've put myself there in virtually every event, which is nice," Woods said.
And he keeps getting plenty of help, not that he needs it.
In all three of his victories this year -- the Buick Invitational, Dubai Desert Classic and Doral -- his closest challenger made bogey on the last hole.
"I look at it this way -- I put myself there," Woods said. "If I put myself there enough times, those things are going to happen, as well as other guys are going to make birdies to beat me. That's the way it goes. As long as I'm there each and every time, it's not a bad place to be."
He hit 9-iron so far to the right that it wound up in a bunker, nearly 100 feet from the hole, slightly against the back lip. The ball sat up on a rake mark, making the shot slightly easier, and Woods blasted out to 12 feet.
Woods finished at 20-under 268 and earned $990,000.
It was his 48th career victory, and it enhanced his reputation as the best closer in golf. Woods now is 34-3 when he has at least a share of the 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour, and he has never lost in 20 tries when leading by at least two going into the last round.
Toms and Villegas each shot 67 to finish at 269, and they left in a different frame of mind.
Villegas was a darling before this largely Latino gallery in south Florida, and while he challenged Woods briefly on the front nine, his two birdies over the final five holes pushed him up the leaderboard. He was three shots behind playing the 18th, and realized there was little hope of catching Woods.
"We are talking here about the best player in the world," Villegas said. "I played well. I had fun."
Toms made back-to-back birdies to start the back nine and pulled within one shot, then added another birdie on the 16th to get within two shots of the lead. He never looked at a leaderboard, and only figured he was in range by the energy from the gallery on another tropical day at the Blue Monster.
But that changed on the 18th, which always has been a tough hole for him. He had a decent lie in the rough, but couldn't go after the flag with a 4-iron, so he played smartly to the fat part of the green. An NBC analyst told him that Woods had bogeyed the 17th, and the lead was down to one shot.
"I wasn't even nervous all day because I'm trying to catch the guy," Toms said. "All of a sudden, I've got a putt all the way across the green, big break, and I'm nervous because I'm just trying to two-putt. That's my mistake. But if I had been looking at it all day, then maybe I would have felt that way all the way through the back nine."
Toms didn't beat himself up over a bogey on the 18th, one of the toughest closing holes on the PGA Tour that played to an average of 4.5 shots in the final round.
He was more frustrated with a 70 in the third round, which left him three shots behind Woods.
"When you play against Tiger, you can't slip up," Toms said. "You just have to play solid every day."
Woods ended a peculiar streak; his last four victories had been in playoffs. It didn't look as though this one would be even close to extra holes the way he played the back nine.
When the challenge arrived, Woods found an extra gear.
"Once I got to the 11th green, I saw D.T. had made birdie at 10 and 11 and drew within one," Woods said. "I told Steve (Williams) that I needed to bury this putt and see if we can get some kind of cushion."
Then came the 603-yard 12th, which Woods is turning into a highlight show. He reached it in two for the second straight year, a powerful 3-wood from the first cut of rough that splashed out of the bunker and to the lower shelf of the green, setting up a two-putt birdie.
That restored his lead to three shots, and the only drama at the end was self-inflicted. Woods was leading by two and had a wedge from 116 yards in the 17th fairway. He hit that over the green, hit a weak chip-and-putt to make bogey, then waited to see how Toms would force his hand.
Woods played his best golf when challenged, and his worst golf when it didn't matter.
The result was another victory on the Blue Monster, the first player since Raymond Floyd (1980-81) to win consecutive years. This tournament will be a World Golf Championship next year, which might make Woods even tougher to beat. He already has won 10 of those.
Phil Mickelson hit into the water on the eighth and ninth holes and wound up with a 73 to tie for 12th. ... Tiger Woods' caddie, Steve Williams, recently took possession of a Ford GT that came with Woods' victory last year. This time, he opted for the copper Mustang. Asked if his wife had any say over who got the car, Woods said, "No, she has others." ... Jeff Sluman matched the best round of the day at 66 and moved up 27 spots into a tie for seventh. ... Among those in the gallery Sunday was seven-time LPGA winner Michelle McGann, who was watching Rich Beem. They both work with Dr. Michael Larden.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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