Call Tiger Woods clutch, not dominant

Woods made a clutch birdie putt on the 15th hole.
Fred Vuich/SI

Sean O'Hair uttered all the right cliches Sunday before the last round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Orlando's Bay Hill.

He wasn't playing Tiger Woods, he was playing the golf course. He could only control his own game. He had to just take it one shot at a time.

But even before Woods matched his biggest final-round comeback with a 16-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole to beat O'Hair by one, we knew the kid was in trouble.

O'Hair, 26, played with a huge lead in Saturday's third round before making three bogeys in his last four holes to cut his margin over Woods to just five strokes.

Uh-oh. Anyone remember the name Matt Gogel? He was seven ahead of Woods with seven holes to play at the 2000 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. And lost.

The more things change ...

Let the record show that in 2009, even at 33, even with a newborn limiting his sleep, even with his newly rebuilt left knee still not 100%, Woods is still Woods, and everyone else is still painfully aware of it.

"It feels good to be back in contention, to feel the rush," Woods said after shooting a final-round 67 at major-difficult Bay Hill. "It's been a while, but God, it felt good."

Zach Johnson shot 69 to finish third at two under overall.

Sunday marked the first victory for Woods since last June, when he won the U.S. Open with a torn ACL and two hairline fractures in his left leg. It was only his third start, second in stroke-play, since his eight-month layoff.

As usual, the ending seemed preordained; only the specifics were in doubt.

More accomplished players than O'Hair have had trouble holding even bigger Sunday leads over Woods.

Ernie Els won by just two shots after sitting on an eight-stroke lead over Woods at Doral in 2002.

And Els lost all of a four-shot lead over Woods, and then some, at the 2008 Dubai Desert Classic.

But the player O'Hair resembled more on Sunday was Sergio Garcia: a 20-something in a TaylorMade cap who couldn't summon his usual game in Tiger's airspace.

There will be those who see the results from Arnie's place Sunday and revert to the usual rhapsody about dominance, and how no one dominates like Woods.

But that's not quite right. Woods is not dominant, not like he was in 2000, when he blew the doors off Gogel and won the U.S. Open by 15 strokes on the way to the Tiger Slam. The way he wins now is by doing just enough, by squeezing every last stroke he can out of his round.

Tee to green, Woods was a long way from his best Sunday, but he's become such a phenomenally reliable clutch putter that it doesn't seem to matter anymore.

It only makes the show more interesting.

Woods birdied 18 to win at Bay Hill last year, too, which was amazing, but not as remarkable as what he'd done a month earlier, in Dubai.

That was where Woods birdied five of his last seven holes, the last by rolling in a 25-foot putt on 18, to steal the Dubai Desert Classic by one over Martin Kaymer. (Els hit into the water on 18 and finished two back.)

And then, of course, Woods broke the amaz-o-meter in June. He birdied the 18th hole twice (Sunday and Monday) to extend his battle with Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines, then won on the 19th hole of their Monday playoff.

It's great entertainment, but call Tiger clutch, not dominant. It's better this way, more astounding — as if anyone thought that was possible.

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