Next Stop, Augusta

Monday April 2nd, 2007
Tiger Woods has won 13 of 24 WGC events, and five of the last seven.
Fred Vuich/SI

MIAMI — You don't have to worry about Tiger Woods someday starting his own tour. He's already got one. It's called the World Golf Championships.

We may as well officially rename it the Tiger Tour because he has dominated it to the point of being laughable. By capturing the CA Championship Sunday at Doral, he has now won 13 of 24 WGC events, including five of the last seven. He's six-for-eight in the CA Championship. He's won $18 million in Tiger Tour events. That figure alone would rank him in the top 25 on the PGA Tour's career money list, ahead of David Duval, Paul Azinger, Mark O'Meara and Greg Norman.

What makes WGC events so easy for Tiger to dominate? The smaller fields. Only 73 players competed last week. In the field were the likes of Prom Meesawat (he shot 16 over), Hideto Tanihara (17 over), Yong-Eun Yang (13 over), Louis Oosthuizen and John Bickerton (seven over each). Not in the field were the Ryder Cuppers Vaughn Taylor, Scott Verplank, Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood. The WGC fields are top-heavy but not very deep, and thus easier to win. As if Tiger needs any extra help.

Add Doral to the list of courses where Woods is money, such as Firestone, Augusta National and St. Andrews. He is 74 under through 20 rounds at Doral — 31 under on the front, 43 under on the back. That par-5 opening hole? It's not a par 5 for Woods. He has birdied or eagled it 18 of the last 20 times, including the last 16 in a row. This is three wins in a row at Doral, the last two coming in the defunct Ford Championship.

"I love this golf course," Woods said. "I always play well here."

He showed it Friday, firing a 66 in gusty conditions, then backing it up the next day with a 68 to open a four-shot lead going into the final round. The tournament seemed over before Sunday because Tiger was 38-3 with a 54-hole lead — make that 39-3.

The lead pursuer was Brett Wetterich, who didn't seem like the kind of player who had enough experience to put any pressure on Woods. As it turned out, he did at the end, but it was too little and too late. Of course, it's never a good idea to spot the game's best player four shots.

Sunday afternoon's gusty winds were as strong as any all week. Woods kept his hefty cushion throughout the front nine. He birdied the opening hole with a 16-foot putt. After missing a five-footer for par at the third, where the exposed green next to the lake is among the windiest spots on the course, he made another eight-foot par save at the fourth after running his 50-foot birdie putt past the hole. He added a short birdie at the fifth and played a low approach shot at the sixth that bored through the wind and over the green, leaving him a tough up and down. He missed that par putt, but made a six-footer at the next hole to for a nice sand save.

Woods seemed ready to romp when he birdied the tenth to open a six-shot lead, but he three-putted the 11th for bogey and missed a par putt at 13. Wetterich made things exciting by making a birdie at the downwind 16th hole to get within three. Then, he hit it to eight feet at the 17th green and missed the putt. That stroke proved crucial. It let Woods play the 18th with a three-shot cushion and lay up off the tee with an iron.

But when Wetterich played one of the best approach shots of the day to six feet, Woods was pressured to make his bogey for the win. His wedge shot carried a little long and left him with a dangerous downhill putt from 50 feet. From a similar spot about an hour earlier, Mark Calcavecchia putted off the green and into the lake. Woods lagged it close, then Wetterich left his birdie putt short, in the jaws. Not that Tiger was going to miss the par putt, but Wetterich had to make it to have a chance.

"I hit two really good shots on that hole, and to leave one short, that's a pretty poor putt," he said. "It probably didn't matter, but it would have been nice."

Woods wasn't at his sharpest in the final round, struggling with his putter a bit and with his memory — he remembered how Doral's old greens broke, but they've been resurfaced and altered since last year, so his memory actually worked against him. He closed with a 73, not bad. As he said, repeating his favorite mantra, "A W is a W."

No surprise that Woods keeps piling up Ws. What else would you expect from a guy who hangs out or text-messages a group of superstar athletes that includes Roger Federer, Michael Jordan and Annika Sorenstam? Federer walked some holes with Woods during his early morning Wednesday practice round. Woods rushed to watch Federer play Saturday night in a nearby tennis tournament. They are, officially, buds.

"Well, I think we understand each other for what we go through," Woods said. "The difference between myself and Jordan and myself and Roger is that Roger and I play individual sports. So there's common ground there that I didn't have with Jordan. It's still phenomenal to watch. It's neat and intriguing for me to talk to him and see what he thinks on certain situations, and we pick each other's brain a little bit. People don't realize how hard you have to work off the court and off the course to achieve the levels that we've been able to achieve. It's a lot harder than people think."

Like his text relationship with Sorenstam, Woods can't help needling his friends about their major titles. Woods has 12 to Federer's 10. They're both pretty driven.

"He's a lot more mellow than I am leading into the event," said Woods, who spent time with Federer in the locker room Saturday night during a rain delay. "I'm pretty fired up and ready to go. I can't wait to get out there and mix it up. He's just a little more low-key. I remember at the U.S. Open, I think it was like 15 minutes before he goes on the court, and he has not had his ankles taped yet. He's just talking to me. I'm like, 'Hey, go.' I pushed him out the door. He's really mellow and low-key, but once he gets on the court, it's a totally different deal."

The final-round flameout at Bay Hill the previous week, where Woods finished double bogey-triple bogey, is already a forgotten aberration. What was wrong with him that week was probably nothing more than a lack of sharpness and competition. He had played only 11 competitive rounds this season before Bay Hill, a third of what many Tour players had already done. Write it off to rust.

There wasn't any rust this weekend when he notched PGA Tour victory No. 56 and stretched his record to 39-3 when he's had the lead after 54 holes.

His swing looks as efficient as ever. His drives still spray at times, but not at crucial times. He remains the man to beat. No one could have seriously challenged him at Doral. With the Masters only a week away, Woods was asked if Doral was good preparation for the Masters. "Well," he said with smile, "you can't have any better, getting a W right before you go."

Let's go out on a limb here — he's ready.

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