The clouds above Doral Resort & Spa were looking dark and angry last Saturday afternoon, so it was no surprise when it began to rain, lightly at first, then violently.
Through the worst of it, Tiger Woods parred his last two holes to preserve his four-shot lead at the WGC-CA Championship. Turned out the storm was only a fast-moving squall, but the rain did more than simply soak the players and fans and soften the Blue Monster's greens. It also poured buzz kill, because we all know what happens when Woods goes into the final round with the lead. That's right-nothing.
Before a ball was struck in the fourth round, Tiger's 56th PGA Tour victory was safer than a silver dollar in a lockbox. There would be no memorable Sunday showdown because Tiger doesn't shoot 64s when he has a lead that size. He hits greens, grinds out pars and does what needs to be done to win, which is why he's 39-3 when he's in front after 54 holes. He wasn't going to do anything crazy in the blustery south Florida wind, and neither was anyone else.
Brett Wetterich, the surprise winner of the 2006 Byron Nelson Championship, who was playing in a Nationwide tour event at about this time a year ago, stayed within hailing distance of Woods but couldn't keep Tiger from adding to his World Golf Championship annuity. Woods has now won 13 of his 24 starts in WGC events, including four of the last six, earning more than $17 million, enough to rank him 24th on the Tour's career money list.
"It is what it is," said a resigned Zach Johnson, who tied for ninth, six shots behind Woods. " I was talking with my wife and said, "It's pretty remarkable. Very redundant, but not very surprising.' "
Clearly, Tiger is demoralizing a new generation of pros. The old Ernie Els-Davis Love III-Phil Mickelson crowd knows all too well how difficult it is competing against Woods. Now the up-and-comers, players such as Aaron Baddeley, Paul Casey, Geoff Ogilvy and Henrik Stenson, are getting a taste of the relentless Tiger.
Woods's 13th WGC victory was also his 18th successful title defense and the fifth time he has won a tournament three years in a row.
Said Ogilvy, the '06 U.S. Open winner, who tied for third, four shots back, " After nine holes I was playing for second, and I'm not ashamed to say it. Tiger is simply better than us."
Nobody goes from zero to 66-as Tiger did last Friday- faster than Woods. He struggled with his putter while shooting a one-under 71 in Thursday's opening round, describing his play in a single word: " Pathetic."
The next day, after a 45-minute session on the practice green with caddie Steve Williams, the eureka moment came on the 9th green, where Tiger faced a 10-footer for par.
He had holed short putts on the first two holes and had good rolls on the next six but hadn't made anything.
" Then I had this one at 9, and I poured it in," said Woods. " I said, "That's my stroke. Keep this going.' And I did."
When Woods's putter is on, he usually wins. When his ball striking and putting are on together, he cruises. What you saw at Doral may be the real genius behind the swing changes he has made with Hank Haney. Tiger's swing will probably never look as pretty as it did when he worked with Butch Harmon, but now Woods has one that he understands and can self-maintain, and nobody in the game can make adjustments quicker, whether they come in the middle of a round or the middle of a tournament.
" That's how you win," Woods says. " I have a better understanding of my swing and how to rectify it from shot to shot."
Two weeks ago, after he had shot an embarrassing 43 on the final nine at Bay Hill, everyone was asking, What's wrong with Tiger? Two days on the range at Isleworth answered that question.
At Doral he was hitting his irons the way he wants-any height, any trajectory, any shape. On Thursday it was Tiger's putting that was under the microscope. That blemish was cleared up on Friday and Saturday, when Woods one-putted 18 greens and had nine birdies and an eagle.
Wetterich kept hanging around but missed a crucial eight-footer for birdie at the 71st hole, allowing Tiger to play the 467-yard par-4 72nd with a three-shot lead.
At 18 Wetterich stuffed his approach to six feet. Woods laid up off the tee with a three-iron, left an eight-iron about 115 yards from the flag, then hit a wedge long, leaving a dangerous downhill 50-footer that (given the possibility of a Wetterich birdie) he seemingly needed to two-putt.
Woods delicately lagged his first one to two feet. Wetterich left his must-make birdie try in the jaws but short. Then Woods tapped in for the anticlimactic bogey and the win, lifting his putter to acknowledge the gallery.
A few minutes later Tour commissioner Tim Finchem was walking toward the 18th green for the award ceremony when he spotted Tiger's pregnant wife, Elin, wearing a sleeveless Stanford Cardinal T-shirt and sunglasses. Finchem took off his cap and kissed her on the cheek. She had a big smile. Finchem had a big event with a big winner. Tiger had a victory, a baby on the way and the Masters looming large next week. The sun was setting. It was all good.