Tiger Had 'em By Trail

Woods' chasers were history once he took lead in the major

Posted: August 13, 2007

TULSA, Okla. - Like recent Ryder Cups, the final major of the season was history by late Friday afternoon.

Because history told us as much. The numbers rarely fib.

One of these decades, Tiger Woods will retreat on the weekend and relinquish his grip on one of the four tournaments that count. But for the time being, the posse is still waiting. Not that two of them didn't at least manage to press the issue this time.

Still, the folks who run the PGA Championship could have just handed the Wanamaker Trophy to Tiger Woods following his 7-under 63 in the second round that gave him a two-shot lead. Or Saturday night, after he had extended that margin to three with a businesslike 69.

When Tiger's in position to dictate the surrender terms, he forces everybody else to take most of the risks. Yet he's the only one who ever gets rewarded. Sort of like golf's version of the old Four Corners offense.

Yesterday at steamy Southern Hills Country Club, the planet's best player did precisely what was necessary to finish things off - once again. One day, maybe he'll win a major by coming from behind. Until then, he'll just have to settle for being 13-for-13 as a front-runner. He has won 13 majors and trails only Jack Nicklaus, who had 18 major victories.

He didn't need to be spectacular yesterday. That was Friday's story. All he had to do was limit his mistakes, make somebody come and get him. Which, of course, nobody could quite do. It's simply asking too much.

Tiger closed with another 69 for an 8-under-par 272, two better than Woody Austin and three ahead of Ernie Els.

It's his first win in a major since last August's PGA, following near-misses in the Masters and U.S. Open when both times he played in the final pairing. And it's the first major he has won since the birth of his daughter, Sam, his first child, who soon will be 2 months old. She was waiting for him in the scoring tent, along with wife Elin. Neither made the trip to last month's British Open.

"That's a feeling I've never experienced before," said Tiger, who now has four PGA titles, one shy of the record shared by Nicklaus and Walter Hagen. "Having her here brings chills. I'm surprised they're out here. It's just so cool.

"It's a lot more special when you have family there. It used to be mom and dad. Now Elin and I have our own daughter. It's evolved. It's so much more special than the other majors. The British last year [after his father died] was different, but this one was certainly so special and so right. I was so excited I just wanted to give them a kiss and get back to signing my scorecard.

"Last year the golf was great, but off the course was difficult. I will certainly take this year over last anytime."

For a while, it looked like one more coronation, especially after Tiger birdied the eighth hole to briefly go up by five strokes. Yet it would soon get a bit dicey.

Austin, playing in the next-to-last twosome, came home in 67, and even got to within one, with three holes to go. Tiger, naturally, then birdied to give himself a little wiggle room, just in case. He would par the last three holes. Austin parred the last five. Els, playing just ahead of Austin, lost any chance with a bogey at 16 and settled for a 66.

Since Tiger never lost the advantage, he never had to change the plan. Even after he three-putted from 35 feet for a bogey at 14.

"I knew they were making a run," explained Tiger, who won last week's World Golf Championship event in Akron, Ohio, by eight shots. "But I kept telling myself if I par in, they have to make birdies somewhere. And 16 and 18 [both par 4s] aren't exactly birdie holes.

"I thought I was in control, but that didn't happen. I felt like I'd given all the momentum back. I got myself in a mess, and I had to get myself out of it. Walking to 15 I was seriously yelling at myself, 'Get back to what you do.' Bear down and get it done somehow."

As if there were any doubt.

This was easily Austin's best finish in a major, and he earned the 10th and last automatic berth on the U.S. Presidents Cup team. Els avoided finishing runner-up to Tiger for a record sixth time, a distinction he'll continue to share with Vijay Singh.

"Being behind, you're trying to push," Els said. "But it's difficult making birdies down the stretch . . .

"It's a tough thing [to make a run at Tiger]."

Only two others, Arron Oberholser (closing 69) and John Senden (71), managed to finish under par, at 279.

Stephen Ames, who played with Woods, shot 76 for 282. Which continues the understandable pattern of guys going to shreds in the last group of majors when paired with Tiger. Just ask Aaron Baddeley. Or was that Stuart Appleby? Perhaps Luke Donald.

"You cannot give somebody [that many] shots, especially someone who happens to be the best player in the world," Austin said, correctly. "I knew where he was at. I wanted him to know that there was somebody else out there. I think it's great that Ernie and I didn't just let him coast in.

"I beat him today, but it doesn't matter . . . It almost is insurmountable."

Almost?

Tiger becomes just the second man to win back-to-back PGAs, since the format switched from match play to stroke play in 1958. He was also the first, in 1999-2000. He didn't win two majors, as he did in each of the last 2 years, but he did avoid going a season without a major. As a pro, he has won at least one major in all but 3 years (1998, 2003 and '04).

"It turned into a great year," Tiger said. "I was right there in the first two major championships. I just didn't quite get it done.

"This time, I did . . .

"If I shot under par, I thought that would put a lot of pressure on those guys to shoot a great number in tough conditions. Well, those guys did it. Ernie and Woody played well. But if I shot under par, I thought I still would win."

Other than Mrs. Els and Mrs. Austin, who didn't? *

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