GRAND BLANC TOWNSHIP, Mich.(AP) Tiger Woods cruised to his easiest victory of the year, getting away with an awful round to open the Buick Open and an average one to hold off a weak field.
His competition and the courses he’s going to play are about to get much tougher.
Woods shot a 3-under 69 and coasted to a three-shot victory with a 20-under 268 total at Warwick Hills, which hosted its first Buick Open in 1958 and seemed to stage its final one Sunday.
Woods, whose previous three wins this year were each by one shot, spent much of Sunday ahead by two before he took a three-stroke lead with the birdie at No. 16.
His businesslike final round included three birdies and no bogeys and he won without trailing in the final round for the first time since Bay Hill in 2008.
He will play at the Bridgestone Invitational this week before going to Hazeltine for the PGA Championship, his final chance to win a major this year. He scheduled himself to compete in two straight tournaments going into a major for the first time in his career.
“I feel good,” Woods said. “The win helps.”
Woods won the Buick Open for a third time and claimed his 69th PGA Tour victory, but the end-of-an-era feel made it more than a ho-hum experience.
“I’ve played all around the world, and I’ve never seen a day like this,” said Woods, also the 2002 and 2006 winner at Warwick Hills. “This event has always been special, but today was something else.”
He acknowledged thinking about his walk up 18 at Warwick Hills being his last, leading to him throwing his ball with a lot of velocity back down the fairway to fans. He also tossed a ball into the gallery at 17.
“I never do that, but today was different,” Woods said. “We aren’t coming back here, and I wanted to thank all these people.”
GolfWeek Magazine reported on its Web site that General Motors Co. would end the PGA Tour’s longest partnership, and The Associated Press confirmed it with a person briefed on the decision. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the announcement wouldn’t be made until after the tournament.
GolfWeek also reported The Greenbrier in West Virginia is waiting for the PGA Tour to confirm it will replace the Buick Open in 2010.
“Hopefully, we’ll get back to this region soon,” Woods said.
If a sponsor doesn’t step up with about $7 million to lure a PGA Tour event back to Michigan, the best golfers in the world might not play in the state again until late in the next decade when the U.S. Open could possibly return to Oakland Hills.
“Hopefully, I’ll be back sooner than that,” Woods said.
From the pro-am when he played with rocker Bob Seger through Sunday, Woods was thanked by fans who appreciated his appearance.
“I’ve never played in front of fans like this,” Woods said.
And they haven’t seen a player quite like Woods.
He improved to 36-1 when he has the outright lead after 54 holes. Woods has four wins this season – twice as many as anyone else on the PGA Tour – in just 11 starts since returning from knee surgery.
Roland Thatcher (64), Greg Chalmers (68) and John Senden (70) tied for second.
“I might go take a picture of the scoreboard since I’m tied with Tiger, but I’m not going to worry about getting ready for a playoff,” Thatcher said when he ended his round soon after Woods was starting his. “I’m sure he’s going to make my day a moot point.”
Indeed he did.
Woods broke the tie with Thatcher with a 21-footer at No. 4, then two-putted from 43 feet to birdie the par-5 seventh. After saving par from the trees on 10 and water on 13, he picked up his final birdie with a two-putt at 16.
He moved into first place in the FedEx Cup standings and padded his lead on the money list with another $918,000 after tying Vijay Singh’s record of three Buick Open titles.
With the 69 wins, he trails just Jack Nicklaus (73) and Sam Snead (82).
Woods reached victory No. 69 at the age 33 years, 7 seven months – almost seven years quicker than Nicklaus and eight years sooner than Snead.
He said the growing collection of trophies is “all over the place,” including his house and his mother’s.
Since the 2006 British Open, Woods has won 21 of 39 starts on the PGA Tour.
Woods, playing for the first time since missing the cut at the British Open in July, got off to a brutal start at the Buick Open.
He shot a 71 in the first round and said it was probably the worst putting performance of his career, leading to him skipping his post-round practice session because he was so mad.
It only added to his legacy because he went from a tie for 95th to a victory, the largest jump he’s made from the first round in a tournament he ended up winning.
Woods roared back into contention with the best five-hole start of his career – beginning 6 under in the second round – en route to a 9-under 63 for his best score in relation to par in four years. His 65 in the third round gave him a one-shot lead into Sunday.
The three-shot victory was his most lopsided since winning the 2008 Buick Invitational by eight.
“He’s just laughing at all of us,” Letzig said. “I wish he’d stop coming to the tournaments I’m coming to. Seriously, though, I love it.”
AP Auto Writer Tom Krisher in Detroit contributed to this report.