By late afternoon
a light rain was steadily falling--much like Tiger Woods's pursuers were
throughout the final round of the Bridgestone Invitational--and the outcome of
the last official World Golf Championship of the season, at Firestone Country
Club in Akron, was hardly in doubt. Woods was navigating the closing holes with
a lead (eight strokes) that was safer than a numbered bank account in Zurich
when an impatient observer near the clubhouse blurted out, "C'mon, even
Little League has a 10-run rule. It's eight shots! It's Tiger!" � Another
Woods victory at Firestone is as novel as another reality show. Sunday's was
his third in a row and sixth in 10 starts there. His history at the club has
the ring of a wedding vow: He's won in sickness and in health, in darkness and
in daylight, in sunshine and in rain, in playoffs and in landslides. Last week
Woods was the only player in the 83-man field to handle Firestone's
lightning-fast greens and angry rough well enough to break par. His eight-under
272 came with only two bogeys over the final 48 holes and none on Sunday, when
he lapped the field with a brilliant 65--all on a course that most of the pros
agreed was the third most difficult of the year, behind only Augusta National
The victory was
different in one respect, due in part to a change in this year's Tour schedule.
For the first time, Woods triumphed at Firestone without already having won a
major championship. In 1999 he had taken the PGA the week before Firestone. In
2000 he had won the U.S. and British Opens as well as the PGA. In '01 it was
the Masters, in '05 the Masters and British, and last season the PGA again.
0�for�'07 so far in the majors, but last week, for the first time
since early in the year when his winning streak reached seven straight, Woods
looked and played like the golfer who has 12 Grand Slam titles at age 31. Gone
was the guy who couldn't hold leads at the Masters and the U.S.�Open, the
guy who looked distracted while hosting his own tournament at Congressional,
the guy who couldn't pull his game together at Carnoustie, replaced by the
player we've become accustomed to seeing in the final round, the man with the
never-on-Sunday attitude toward bogeys.
The year's first
three majors have been won by first-time champions. The feeling here is that,
based on Woods's showing at Firestone, that streak will end this week in Tulsa.
Tiger has found his A�game, and that has obvious implications for the PGA
Championship. "I'd say, 'Good luck everybody else,' " says CBS course
reporter David Feherty, who followed Tiger on Sunday. He saw Woods hit 14
greens in regulation and chip in on two of the greens he missed.
The final itself
turned deadly dull after Woods birdied four of the first six holes to open a
four-shot lead and turn a potential grudge match with Rory Sabbatini into a
rout. "It was one of the alltime great rounds I've ever seen by
anyone," Feherty says. "Especially the way that course played, with
hard and fast fairways and horrific rough. Tiger had that
Zen-effing-transcendental look from start to finish, you know? If anybody came
at him, he was going to stomp on them. Seriously, watching Tiger is like
watching a different species."
needed to know about Woods's mind-set was evident on the 9th�hole, a
downhill 494-yard par-4 whose firm, pitched fairway sent most tee shots into
the gnarly rough. Woods parred it in all four rounds but had an adventure on
Sunday. He made one of his few bad swings of the day when he dropped his head
on the tee shot and pulled his ball almost onto the adjacent 10th fairway. The
play would've been a chip-out and a wedge for anyone else, but Woods muscled a
nine-iron past a large maple and curved his ball back toward the green. The
would-be miracle shot landed in the lap of a lady sitting in a folding chair
left of the green. After taking a drop, Woods made a second mistake, pitching
across the green into the back fringe. Finally, after eight holes, a chink in
Tiger's armor? No. Caddie Steve Williams pulled the flagstick, and Woods deftly
hit a nine-iron chip that was never going anywhere but into the hole (Big Play,
page�G18). Later Woods nonchalantly summarized how he had played the hole
by saying, "Four shots."
The chip-in was a
killer for a smoldering Sabbatini, who began the round with a one-stroke lead
and had talked smack about wanting a rematch with Woods to get revenge for a
final-round dusting by Tiger at the Wachovia Championship in May. After making
a double bogey on the 9th to fall six shots behind, Sabbatini, who would tie
for second with Justin Rose, was confronted by a fan who asked him if he still
thought that Tiger was beatable, another reference to the Wachovia. Apparently
the question came under the Jeopardy! category Bad Timing, because Sabbatini
profanely pointed out the fan to security and had him removed from the
brashness makes him a good quote, but there wasn't much to say about Sunday's
final score: Woods�65, Sabbo�74. If they had been playing a match,
Woods would've won 7 and 6. Of course, it's doubtful that Woods views Sabbatini
(or anyone else) as a real threat. Like Ben Hogan, Woods has only one real
opponent--the course. "Once he's out there, he turns his head off,"
Feherty says. "Nothing gets in, and nothing gets out until he's
Which is why Woods
seemed to be grinding so hard on his last putt, a 13-footer for par, on the
72nd hole. He hadn't made a bogey all day, and his goal had been to keep his
card clean. Never mind that he had an eight-shot lead and that the putt didn't
really matter. Woods can't understand people who don't get something so simple.
Like Jack Nicklaus, Woods doesn't miss many putts on the 18th hole, and he
didn't miss this one.
"It's such a
pleasure to watch and be here at this time in golf," Feherty says. He meant
the Tiger Era, which continues at Southern Hills, where it will be an upset if
Woods doesn't win a 13th major. The one constant in Tiger's career is that when
he plays well, he wins, and when he plays very well, as he did on the weekend
at Firestone, he dominates. He's playing well.