birdied the 11th hole out of the rough, his lead was five strokes, and the rest
of the back nine became an extended trophy ceremony, recalling the old days
when he routinely snuffed the life out of tournaments and the other players. By
the time Woods tidied up his closing 68, he had made only three bogeys for the
week. His final tally of 18 under tied the PGA Championship scoring record, of
which he already owned a piece, from 2000, when he also set scoring records at
the U.S and British Opens.
Is he playing at
the same level as six years ago?
Yes," Woods said during the champion's press conference. "With [six
years of] added experience, and understanding how to get myself around a golf
course and how to control my emotions and all the different shots I've learned
since then, yeah, I feel like things are pretty darned good right now."
Which is, of
course, bad news for everybody else. Just ask Sergio Garc�a. He burst onto the
scene at the '99 PGA, a fearless 19-year-old who lit up Medinah with a Sunday
rally that fell one stroke short. That was supposed to position Sergio as Butch
to Tiger's Sundance, but he has not matched Woods's unrelenting improvement.
Garc�a hung around the leader board all week but finished in a distant tie for
third, another letdown in a career full of them. If the enduring image of
Sergio circa 1999 is his joyous scissors kick, seven years later he was a
muttering, head-shaking picture of frustration.
Garc�a was not
the only player to leave Medinah feeling dispirited. As Woods was slowed by his
2004 swing changes and then the failing health of his father, nobody took
greater advantage of the lulls than Phil Mickelson. But now, suddenly, he has
been thrust back into the familiar role of not being good enough. Mickelson got
to see firsthand how he stacks up, as over the first 36 holes he was paired
with Tiger. On Thursday the two shared a little forced chitchat and matching
69s. That's an excellent score at any major, but the headline in the Chicago
Sun-Times captured the collective disappointment that there were not more
fireworks: underwhelming. Mickelson was thoroughly outclassed during the second
round, as Tiger shot a bogeyless 68 while Phil sprayed his ball all over
Illinois en route to a 71. A closing 74 would leave Mickelson in 16th place, 12
strokes back of Woods. On Sunday, Phil was asked to put into perspective his
archrival's 12th major championship. "It's pretty good," he said,
curtly ending the discussion.
victories have pushed Woods two thirds of the way up Mount Nicklaus. A few
years ago Jack's record of 18 career major championships looked insurmountable;
now, with Woods having bagged four in the last two years, the shattering of
golf's greatest record seems inevitable, and sooner rather than later.
still a long way away," says Woods, who made his Tour debut 10 years ago
this week. "It took Jack over 20 years to get to his. As I've said, it's
going to take a career, and I've just got to keep plugging along and keep
trying to win these things. But these are the most fun events to play in, the
major championships. I thoroughly enjoy coming down the stretch on the back
nine with a chance to win. That's why I practice as hard as I do. It's what I
live for. That to me is the ultimate rush in our sport, [to be] on that back
nine on Sunday with a chance to win a major."
In '99, when the
final putt had dropped, Woods slumped over his flatstick, weary from the 2 1/2
years it had taken to validate his epic Masters win. This time he seemed
determined to enjoy the moment. After the stultifying formal awards ceremony he
picked up the oversized Wanamaker Trophy and marched across the 18th green to
shake his bauble at a raucous grandstand. A little while later Woods was
spirited into a hot, crowded room within Medinah's majestic clubhouse for the
traditional victor's champagne toast with the PGA of America brass. The
white-haired official presiding over the ceremony first called upon Woods's
wife, Elin. She likes to avoid the spotlight, and as Elin arrived on stage her
cheeks were the same color as her crimson stanford T-shirt. Mrs. Woods was
presented with a pendant adorned with the PGA logo. Then Tiger got a present of
his own--an honorary membership to Medinah, a club that joins the august
company of Augusta National and St. Andrews as the only courses on which Woods
has won multiple major championships. Stepping to the microphone, Woods
shouted, "I love this place!" He added that he was already looking
forward to the 2012 Ryder Cup matches at Medinah. "Hopefully I'll make the
team," he said, breaking up the room. Finally it was time to toast his
illustrious past and seemingly endless future. Woods downed his tall glass of
champagne in one greedy gulp.