With knockout punch on 18, Woods keeps streak alive and ties Hogan for career victories

With knockout punch on 18, Woods keeps streak alive and ties Hogan for career victories

This was his 64th career victory, tying Ben Hogan at No. 3 on the PGA Tour's career list.
Gary Bogdon/SI

The Arnold Palmer Invitational ended with an overhand right, not an uppercut, and a cap getting spiked into the ground — some sort of weird homage to Fred Funk at the 2005 Players. Tiger Woods could not hide his advancing male-pattern baldness, and his high-fives with caddie Steve Williams could still have used a choreographer.

Yes, he is human. We think. In yet another ridiculously clutch performance that seemed to impress even him, Woods drained a big-breaking 25-foot putt on the 18th hole to beat Bart Bryant by a stroke at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill on Sunday.

"Anything he does anymore doesn't surprise me," said Bryant, who played in the twosome in front of Woods and shot 67 to reach nine under for the tournament, just short of Woods's 10-under total.

Cliff Kresge, Sean O'Hair and Vijay Singh tied for third place at seven under. Ken Duke and Hunter Mahan tied for sixth at six under.

"I need to see the highlights," said Woods, who lifted the trophy at Bay Hill for the fifth time but the first time since 2003. "I was so into the moment of the putt going in and winning the golf tournament. I kept telling myself, I've done this before, I did it against Phil, and this time it's a little bit deeper into the green and the putt has a little bit more break and it has a little more grain; I've done it before and I can do it again."

So goes golf: Woods keeps doing it. Still only 32, he tied Ben Hogan with his 64th career PGA Tour victory, climbing to third on the list behind only Jack Nicklaus (73) and Sam Snead (82).

It was Woods's third victory in three Tour starts in 2008, but his winning streak is at least five, since he won his last two Tour starts in '07. His worldwide streak stands at six, since he also won at the Dubai Desert Classic, his only start on the European Tour this year. Byron Nelson won 11 in a row in 1945, a record that once seemed unbreakable. Woods has twice won six in a row, and now has five and counting.

At one point in Sunday's telecast, NBC's Johnny Miller started talking about the former Utah Jazz point guard John Stockton, and how many consecutive free throws he could make. This wasn't Miller's point, but Woods has made winning on Tour — a tricky endeavor usually dependent, in part, on external variables like weather and the rest of the field — as routine as making free throws.

He has won seven of his last eight official starts on Tour; eight of his last nine if you include the unofficial, limited-field Target World Challenge; and nine of his last 10 including Dubai in early February. He could make it 10 of 11 at Miami's Doral Resort and Spa, which will host the limited-field CA Championship this week. As defending champion at Doral, where he's won the last three years, he'll be the heavy favorite.

"To us out here on Tour, we understand what he's doing, the magnitude of it," Bryant said. "I think true golf fans who understand the game understand the magnitude of it. I think the golf public in general doesn't get it, to be honest with you. Because what he's doing right now, I mean, you can't even hardly fathom it. You can't explain it. It's just incredible. Just what he did today is another evidence of this weird zone he's in, and he's been it like his whole life. (Laughter) I don't know how to explain it."

Bryant, 45, whose older brother Brad lost in a playoff on the Champions tour on Sunday, matched Woods shot for shot on the back nine. His only hiccup was a three-putt from 25 feet on the 11th hole, right after Woods three-putted from six feet on 10.

It's possible to make a single mistake and still beat Woods, if the course and conditions are just so. But more often than not, Woods counters a near-flawless performance with his own near-flawless performance that's one better. He did it in 2001, the last time he birdied the 18th hole at Bay Hill to win by one, over Phil Mickelson. He did it at the 2000 PGA Championship, when he outlasted the gritty veteran Bob May. (What is it about those gritty veterans who refuse to wilt in the presence of Woods?)

And now he's done it again.

The final putt broke about four feet left-to-right and gave Woods his second straight 66. It was a master stroke that impressed Palmer, who was watching from behind the green and nodded his head and laughed; mesmerized TV viewers, no matter how much they expect such theatrics by now; and apparently moved even Woods himself, even after an entire career of breathtaking finishes.

"You know, when Stevie handed me my hat," Woods said, "I was like, 'How in the hell did he get my hat?' Evidently it came off. I don't know how it came off, but it came off."

It came off because Woods pulled it off. Again.

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