Woods sweats, but never trails in PGA victory

8/13/2007 - Golf

TULSA, Okla. -- Instead of the usual coronation, there was consternation and perspiration. The drops that poured from Tiger Woods' face were a product of both the intense heat at Southern Hills Country Club and a couple of golfers who made the day a bit more uncomfortable.

In the end, Woods hoisted the Wanamaker Trophy for the fourth time after successfully defending his PGA Championship title. He did what he had to do. He always does, doesn't he?

"Winning becomes almost a habit," said Ernie Els, who shot 66 but came up 3 strokes short. "Look at Tiger."

Both Woody Austin and Els had better rounds Sunday, but that is the beauty of giving yourself a cushion. The nearest competitor at the start of the day, Stephen Ames, was staring into the headlights while playing with Woods, and it showed. He shot 76 and finished 10 strokes back.

When the nearest competitors got within a stroke of him, Woods dug down to make a clutch birdie at the 15th hole, all but willing his ball down the fairway, onto the green and into the cup.

"I kept telling myself going to the next hole, 'I need to bear down and get things done,'" said Woods, who usually does just that.

Woods has won all 13 of his major championships after holding at least a share of the 54-hole lead going into the final round. All but two of his final-round "companions" scored worse, and for as well as Bob May (2000 PGA) and Chris DiMarco (2005 Masters) competed against the game's No. 1 player, they still could not overtake him in a playoff.

It is very easy to take Woods for granted, to yawn at his achievements. But we truly are fortunate to be witness to such greatness, especially amid all the scrutiny. A little more than a week ago, before Woods captured the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, there were those among us counting up how many tournaments he had gone without a victory.

The number had risen to a grand total of five, but in Woods' world, people keep track.

He came into the PGA Championship with four PGA Tour victories, leading the money list, possessing the lowest scoring average and holding a whopping lead in the FedEx Cup standings.

Yet there were no major victories. Even Woods admitted that a year without a major title could not be viewed in the same manner as one that included a victory at the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open or PGA -- no matter how many other tournaments he won.

"It turned into a great year," Woods said after winning for the 59th time in his PGA Tour career. "Anytime you win a major championship in the year, it's always going to be a great year. And this certainly is."

This was Woods' 13th major title in his 44th start in a major as a professional. It took Jack Nicklaus 53 pro majors to win 13 on his way to the number that remains the gold standard: 18.

Most believe it is simply a matter of time before Woods gets there, and it has been an amazing journey to this point. Woods has won his 13 major titles in 11 years as a pro.

"When you first start your career … 18 is just a long way away," said Woods, as if the number could even be fathomable at age 21. "And even though I'm at 13, it's still a long way away. You can't get it done in one year. It's going to take time. It took Jack 20-plus years to get it done. It's one of those things where it is going to take some time. And hopefully, health permitting and everything goes right and I keep improving, one day I'll surpass that."

Woods' close calls at the Masters and U.S. Open this year offered excellent perspective. For the first time, Woods led during the final round of a major and failed to deliver. He was beaten by two players -- Zach Johnson and Angel Cabrera -- who would have fetched enormous odds on winning at the beginning of the week. It showed just how difficult it is to win these tournaments.

Winning five more majors doesn't seem like much when Woods already has 13. But consider that players such as Byron Nelson, Peter Thomson and Seve Ballesteros won five for their entire careers. To surpass Nicklaus, Woods needs to win six more, matching the total posted by Nick Faldo and Lee Trevino.

The good news is Woods has time. At 31, his physical skills should only get better. And although the 2000 season often is viewed as Woods' best -- he won three straight majors and added a fourth straight in 2001 -- there are several aspects of his game that have improved since then.

His driving accuracy might not be as solid as it once was, but Woods knows how to wear out a Southern Hills course not viewed to suit him by hitting irons off tees. On courses that are long, he can bomb it and have an enormous advantage. On courses that are short, he can play strategic golf and hit it to any spot he wants.

"It's experience," he said. "Understanding how to handle it and how to manage my game around the golf course. I have more shots than I did then just because [I've had] that many more years to learn them. And how to make adjustments on the fly -- it just comes with experience.

"And I'll say the same thing seven years from now. I'll be more experienced than I am now."

Who knows where this ride will have taken us in seven years? By then, Woods will be 38. He'll have had seven more cracks at Augusta National, where he has won four times. He'll have returned to Bethpage Black and Pebble Beach, where he won his two U.S. Opens. Another British Open will have been played at St. Andrews, where he has won twice.

No sweat? Nobody is saying it is going to be easy, even if Tiger has a way of making it look that way.

Bob Harig is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.