No Sweat

Woody Austin, PGA Championship
Robert Beck/SI
Austin mounted a late charge, closing within a shot on the back nine, but came up short in the end.

As Daly continued his fade.he finished 73.73, in 32nd place.it was left to Stephen Ames, Woody Austin and Ernie Els to give chase. At various points over the final two rounds each showed some admirable spunk, but Woods was unyielding. On Saturday he played his usual prevent defense, shooting a coldly clinical 69 to go up by three strokes on Ames, four on Austin and six on Els. History was not on the side of the pursuers. Woods was 23-0 in his career when holding more than a one-shot lead entering the final round, and he was 12 for 12 in majors when he had a lead or a share of it. Even worse news for Ames: In those dozen victories Woods's final-round scoring average was 69.25 versus 72.92 for his playing partners.

"It's tough to play with Tiger, no doubt about it," said Ames on the eve of the final round. "He's relentless, constantly making great shots, making great putts."

So how do you beat him?

"I don't know."

Sunday wound up being slightly more interesting than might have been predicted. Ames struggled from the first tee shot — a crashing hook into the trees that led to a bogey — and would shoot 76. Beginning at number 4 Woods birdied three of the next five holes, punctuated by a curling 30-footer from the fringe on the 8th that begat a lusty fist pump. That pushed the lead to a commanding five strokes, but Woods began playing a touch too defensively while Els and Austin kept attacking, making three birdies apiece early on the back nine. When Tiger three-putted the 14th hole from 40 feet, his lead was down to a lone stroke.

Said Woods later, "Going to the 15th tee, I told myself, You got yourself into this mess, now go earn your way out of it."

With renewed aggression Woods covered the flag with his approach at the 15th, and the ensuing birdie pushed the lead back to two strokes on Austin and three over Els, who up ahead had made bogey on the 16th after a wild hook off the tee. The challengers would never creep any closer. The drama, such as it was, had lasted all of 15 minutes. Woods closed out his 69 with three textbook pars, for a four-round total of 272.

For Tiger his growing major championship tally is paramount, but the victory had other meaning. This golf season lacked definition until two weeks ago, as the previous majors had gone to a trio of first-time winners and Woods had been looking almost human, having stumbled down the stretch at the Masters and the U.S. Open. And though Tiger had a Tour-best three victories through the end of July, even those performances had been underwhelming, as he shot 38 on the final nine holes at two of them. But before the Bridgestone's final round Tiger found something on the range in the release of his club on the downswing, and he closed with a bogey-free 65 to blow away the field by eight strokes. Though it was a vintage performance, Woods came to the PGA knowing what was at stake. "To have a great year, you have to win a major championship," he said at Southern Hills.

Now he has five victories in a season for a record eighth time, and unless Zach Johnson sweeps all four of the upcoming FedEx Cup playoff events, Woods will be player of the year for the ninth time in the last 11 years.

Another nice milestone is that this PGA was Woods's first major win as a father. The dominating performance at Southern Hills should put to rest the notion that being a family man will somehow blunt Woods's competitive edge. This was always a spurious concept, given that Nicklaus won all 18 of his majors as a dad. Anyway, as Woods's friend and neighbor Lee Janzen says, "Tiger's as stubborn and as driven as anyone who has ever picked up a club. If people are saying being a dad is going to affect his game, he'll go the extra mile to make sure it doesn't. That's how he's wired."

Up until now Woods has tried to hide his soft side. At the Bridgestone he was asked if, given his insurmountable lead on the final holes, he had thought of two-month-old Sam Alexis, cooing back at home. "No, not when I'm out there playing," Woods said. He finally allowed himself to get a little mushy at Southern Hills. Moments after he tidied up on the 18th hole his wife, Elin, surprised him in the scoring area by showing up with Sam, who was turned out in a shade of her father's traditional Sunday red. Minutes later Woods was back on the 18th green, broiling in the sun for the trophy presentation. Referring to his victorious postround smooches with wife and child, he told the crowd, "That was a feeling I've never experienced," and he got a little choked up in the telling. In a week defined by clever thinking, Woods had found a novel way to beat the heat. "I'm getting chills right now just thinking about it," he said.

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