Tiger serves up heaping helping of 'Told You So'
Do you believe Tiger Woods now?
Throughout his 14-week, six-event winless drought, Woods cringed whenever he heard the word "slump" (which was quite often), insisting his troubles weren't serious and that he wasn't far from putting it together again.
Turns out he was right.
Woods lapped the field in a five-stroke victory Sunday, matching the best total in 100 years of competition at the Western Open with his 21-under 267. It was a poignant reminder of his dominance when we needed one the most.
With the win, Tiger served up a big slice of "Told You So" to his critics and a heaping helping of "Remember Me?" to the PGA Tour, who may have been getting all-too-comfortable these last three months without Woods at the top of his game.
The victory was his fourth of the season, and lifted him into second on the money list. Combined with his gutsy performance at Bay Hill, Woods' last two victories have come by a combined 16 strokes.
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Woods had a 10-stroke lead after 10 holes Sunday, but saw it cut in half after two rain delays. Don't get caught up too much in that number, the tournament was already in the bag when he played the back nine in 1-over.
More significantly, his victory comes at an ideal time. The Western Open was Woods' last event before the British Open, where he'll now go after his first major in over a year without having to deal with the bothersome slump talk.
Inside Woods' week
The putter that gave Tiger so much trouble in his last few tournaments was his greatest weapon at Cog Hill. His 104 total putts tied a career low, and his 26 putts-per-round average was not only best in the field, but more than three strokes better than in either of his last two events.
His putter can't take all the credit, though. Woods was also on target with his irons, giving himself just a handful of putts of over 20 feet after Friday. His driver, too, came around a bit. He was second in the field in driving distance (303.4 yards), and hit nine or more fairways in three of his four rounds.
"I told everyone I was close to putting it together, I wasn't that far off," Woods said after his third round, when his lead was a paltry six strokes. "It was just a matter of making a few putts, and more than anything getting the momentum going."
More facts and figures from Woods' week:
1. The USGA has to be patting itself on the back for its selection of Pumpkin Ridge as the venue for this year's U.S. Women's Open.
Unlike Olympia Fields (site of the men's U.S. Open in June), the Witch Hollow course featured a memorable finishing stretch, including a risk-reward par-5 18th hole that served as the stage of some high drama Sunday afternoon.
While Annika Sorenstam was trying to figure out how to play her third shot from in between the port-o-potties and giant scoreboard (she got a free lift after a 15-minute discussion), qualifier Hilary Lunke and Angela Stanford were standing about 250 yards behind her in the fairway, waiting to hit the approach shots that would ultimately decide whether they'd live to play another day.
The hole played a role for each of the top four players. Sorenstam's shocking bogey after a near-perfect drive kept her out of the playoff, while Stanford drained a clutch 20-footer for birdie on the 18th green minutes later. Lunke then had a 15-foot birdie putt to win it, but came up short.
About 45 minutes earlier, Kelly Robbins just missed making the first eagle of the week at the hole, settling for a birdie. Her 1-under score would set the bar for the final groups.
Like Olympia Fields, the course was at its toughest on Sunday afternoon -- another reason for the bluecoats to smile. Just three of the 59 players who teed it up in the final round were under par, and just the three in Monday's playoff (noon ET, ESPN) finished the tournament in red numbers.
2. Thirteen-year-old Michelle Wie would probably rather forget her experience at Pumpkin Ridge, but remembering it will likely be far more useful.
What sticks out about Wie's week wasn't her booming drives (she led the field in driving distance), but rather her run-in with LPGA Tour veteran Danielle Ammaccapane, who was allegedly upset with what she saw as breaches of golf etiquette.
To be a 13-year-old girl in the spotlight of the U.S. Open is one thing. But to be a 13-year-old girl in that spotlight entangled in controversy is a totally different ballgame. To Wie's credit, she handled the extra attention admirably, firing back-to-back 76s amid the hubbub to finish tied for 39th.
Afterwards, she seemed anxious to put it all behind her. Phenom or not, she's still just a ninth-grader-to-be with a lot to discover. She has a little less to learn after this week.
Beem, the outgoing everyman who rocked the golfing world at the PGA Championship last August, posted his first top-5 finish since that unlikely victory at this week's Western Open.
Beem was runner-up to Woods, who ironically was runner-up to Beem at Hazeltine last year. This time, though, Beem never had a chance to catch Tiger down the stretch.
But that didn't stop him from making it interesting.
Trailing by 10 strokes on the back nine Sunday, Beemer played holes 10-14 at 5-under -- including an incredible eagle on No. 11 -- to cut the deficit in half.
''I actually thought I had a glimmer of hope after the putt on 14'' that got him within five, Beem said. ''I got (Tiger's) attention. We went back to the locker room (during the rain delay) and he said, 'Hey, slow down, man.'''
Up next ...
PGA Tour: Greater Milwaukee Open
While most of the PGA Tour is crossing the pond to prepare for the British Open, a watered-down field will tee it up at Brown Deer Park.
European tour: Scottish Open
Many players will get a final tune-up for the British Open in Scotland this week. That group includes defending British Open champ Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, Fred Couples, John Daly, Chad Campbell and Colin Montgomerie.
Champions Tour: Ford Senior Players Championship
Stewart Ginn defends as the seniors play their third major of the year.
LPGA Tour: Canadian Women's Open
Nationwide Tour: Hershey Open
David Lefort is ESPN.com's golf editor, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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