Woods holds off gritty Toms 2 and 1 in Match Play final

Originally Published: March 2, 2003
Associated Press

Woods-Toms hole-by-hole scorecard

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- Tiger Woods always knew the final piece of his World Golf Championships collection would be the toughest for him to win.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods now has two titles and a fifth-place finish in three events in 2003. Not too shabby.

David Toms made sure of that.

Leading by as many as five holes, Woods recovered from a few shaky shots and held off a gritty charge by Toms to win the Match Play Championship, making him the first player to capture all four of the WGC tournaments.

''This is the hardest to win,'' Woods said. ''Yeah, it's physically grueling, but I think it's more mentally grueling because of the ebb and flow of match play. If we had to do this every week, every pro's playing career would be about 10 years.''

The final match must have felt like a lifetime.

Leave it to Tiger
Even by Tiger Woods' standards, this start to the season has been nothing short of phenomenal.

Woods has two wins and a fifth-place showing in three 2003 events, his second-best start since he joined the tour in 1996. He's done it coming off the longest layoff of his career, and with a surgically repaired knee no less.

The only time Woods has gotten off to a better beginning to a season was in 2000, when he won the season-opening Mercedes and Pebble Beach Pro-Am and finishing second at the Accenture Match Play. Woods captured nine titles that year -- three of them major championships

This time around, Woods bested his runner-up finish at the Match Play by putting on a dominating performance at La Costa. Against the top players in the world in golf's toughest format -- played at a wet, windy and punishing La Costa -- Woods needed only 112 holes to win the title, the fewest of any winner in the five-year history of the event.

Though he wasn't at his best Sunday -- he made more than twice as many bogeys against David Toms than he did all week -- Woods still made the big putts and never trailed in the match.

Some facts and figures from Woods' week:

  • Of the 112 holes played, he won 40 of them, lost 18 and made just four bogeys, three of them Sunday.

  • Woods made 25 birdies and three eagles.

  • He trailed on only 10 holes all week, and was never more than 2 down in any of his six matches.

  • Before Sunday's final, Woods hit 56 of 77 greens in regulation (72 percent) and 42 of 60 fairways (70 percent).

    For more statistics and insights from the weekend in golf, check out our Weekend Wrapup.

  • After announcing he would not play the Dubai Desert Classic next week because it's ''not a safe environment,'' Woods -- who was 4 up after the morning round -- kept that margin with 11 holes to play. Two sloppy bogeys and a few clutch birdies by Toms brought high drama to La Costa.

    Woods, who never trailed, finally closed him out when Toms took four shots to reach the 17th green and Woods saved par from a bunker, holing a 3-foot putt.

    ''He never really got all the momentum,'' Woods said after a 2-and-1 victory. ''He got a lot of it, but not all of it.''

    Woods won for the 36th time on the PGA Tour and earned $1,050,000. Since returning from his two-month break for knee surgery, he has won twice and tied for fifth in three tournaments.

    And he's passing on an appearance fee worth more than $2 million to play in Dubai.

    Toms earned $600,000. Despite losing, he enhanced his reputation as a player who squeezes everything out of his game until the very end.

    ''I'm not going to quit,'' Toms said. ''That's not my nature. We're on national TV and I wanted to last a long time. I didn't want to be embarrassed. When he got 5 up, I just had to dig deep and not give in.''

    Woods was 5 up after 19 holes and had an 8-foot birdie putt.

    Toms rolled in a 35-footer to win the hole and seize momentum, which got even stronger when Woods made back-to-back bogeys on the 26th and 27th holes.

    Ultimately, it was too large a deficit to overcome for Toms, especially against the best player in the world who again proved to be a master at match play.

    He won three straight U.S. Junior Amateur titles and three straight U.S. Amateurs, but was 0-4 in match-play tournaments as a pro.

    That changed during a dominant week at La Costa, where he made only five bogeys on a tough course and played only 112 holes, the fewest of any winner in the five-year history of the Accenture Match Play Championship.

    The World Golf Championships began in 1999, and Woods has won them all -- three times the NEC Invitational, twice the American Express and the 2000 World Cup with David Duval.

    The missing piece was the format he loves most.

    Woods showed that on the final hole. Clinging to a 1-up lead, he watched Toms hit his drive into the rough behind some trees. Woods, who had hit driver on the 483-yard hole all week, reached for the 3-wood and split the middle.

    David Toms
    David Toms rallied from five holes down to make things interesting in the final.

    ''Whatever it took to get the ball in play to put pressure back on him,'' Woods said. ''I was hot at myself for hitting that 7-iron into the bunker. But I had a great lie -- just get it below the hole so I had an uphill putt -- and I was able to do that.''

    Toms' approach went left into rough so deep he could barely identify his ball. He hacked out short of the green, and his chip for par turned away.

    ''I still thought I could chip it in,'' Toms said. ''You don't give in until you're done.''

    Adam Scott, who pushed Woods to 19 holes in the semifinals, was 6 up through eight holes in the 18-hole consolation match against Peter Lonard. Scott didn't make another birdie until the 18th, winning 1 up.

    Scott earned $480,000, the largest check of his career. Lonard won $390,000.

    Toms trailed by as many as five holes, but never panicked. He has more grit than glitz, and hung around just long enough for Woods to start making a few mistakes.

    Woods, so relentless with his power and accuracy in the morning round, made only two bogeys in his first 102 holes at La Costa before making them back-to-back on Nos. 8 and 9 in the afternoon round.

    Suddenly, his lead was only 2 up. Toms twice cut that in half, holing a 15-foot birdie putt on the 15th hole to give himself a chance.

    Still, the match was really decided over the first 18 holes when Woods applied relentless pressure off the tee with power and accuracy.

    ''I got down too far to come back,'' Toms said.

    Woods was 4 up after the morning round, a margin that seemed even larger considering the limited opportunities Toms had to win a hole.

    His remarks from the PGA Championship last year seemed prophetic.

    ''Tell me this: If we're all on our games and they're hitting three less clubs than me, who's got the better chance?'' Toms said at Hazeltine after playing the first round with Woods and Ernie Els.

    That's exactly how it shaped up at La Costa.

    Woods belted his drives long and straight, not missing a fairway until the 11th hole. That gave him shorter irons into the greens, and he had 16 birdie putts in the morning.

    It looked like it might be the biggest rout in the finals of any match-play event when Woods hit his approach into 4 feet on the opening hole of the afternoon for birdie to go 5 up, then followed with a shot into 8 feet on the par-3 second.

    Toms showed no quit.

    He holed a 35-foot birdie putt on No. 2 and won the hole when Woods missed his birdie, a key moment in the match.

    Woods was on the verge of going 6 up, and momentum suddenly shifted to Toms. On the next hole, Toms made a 10-foot birdie putt and Woods three-putted for par from 40 feet, missing his birdie attempt from 5 feet.

    Even so, this was Woods' match to lose. He hit into 3 feet for birdie on No. 6, exchanged pars on the next hole and was 4 up with 11 holes to play.

    Toms didn't go away. He simply ran out of holes.

    Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press