Woods wasted no time in burnishing his legend on Sunday. He brushed in a 12-footer for birdie on the 1st hole to take sole possession of the lead and just kept going. When he made a 40-foot bomb on number 6 his cushion was three strokes. Another 40-footer on 8 pushed his lead to four.
"I had one of those magical days on the greens," Woods said on Sunday evening. "I just felt like if I got the ball anywhere on the green, I could make it. It's not too often you get days like that, and I happened to have it on the final round of a major."
When Woods 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. 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 Garcia. 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. Garcia 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.
Garcia 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.
Those dozen 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.
"Well, it's 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.