It doesn't matter if it's Sunday or Monday; against Luke Donald or Stewart Cink or Vijay Singh; in Akron, Boston or Chicago, Tiger Woods continues to give a clinic in the A, B, Cs of winning golf tournaments. His latest masterwork, at the TPC of Boston on Sunday, was an 8-under-par 63 in which he vaporized a three-stroke deficit in a mere 45 minutes, won his 5th start in a row and 7th of 2006, and picked up even more momentum as he prepares to lead the underdog U.S. team into battle at the upcoming Ryder Cup matches.
Woods's lead was only two strokes for most of the day, but this was perhaps the least dramatic narrow victory in the history of the game. As he's done for the last two months, Woods made almost every important putt, failing to convert on just one easy birdie hole, the par-5 18th, and then only after the contest had already been decided. After he had collected the tallest trophy for the 53rd time in his career, pink-shirted officials ushered Woods into position on the green for the photographers, and he almost stepped into the cup that had denied him. It was the closest he came to making a mistake all day.
"Well, I've done it before," Woods said, alluding to the six consecutive titles he won during the 1999-2000 seasons. "But it's nice when you get on a roll like this where the things are just happening. I got some lucky breaks, some great bounces. This isn't all about hitting perfect shots and making every putt. That's a lot of luck on my side and a lot of things have to go right. But also my mechanics, from all the work I've done with Hank and my changes are starting to come together. And that's pretty exciting for me to go out there and play with this type of confidence with my mechanics becoming more and more sound."
This is the 14th time Woods has won without holding the 54-hole lead, and the third time this year. Still, this was an unusually swift reversal, even by his standards. It began on the 554-yard, par-5 2nd hole, where Woods hit his drive in the fairway and Singh found the rough, leading to scores of eagle and par, respectively. All of a sudden, the lead was down to one and, as Woods said afterward, "I just got all the momentum."
Woods birdied the par-3 3rd hole, tying Singh at 11-under, and went ahead with a birdie on the par-4 5th hole, before dropping another bomb on the 600-yard, par-5 7th hole, where he hit a 3-wood to within 11 feet of the cup and again converted his eagle putt. By now he was 6-under through his first seven holes, a run of red numbers not seen since the 2000 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, when Woods erased a seven-shot deficit in seven holes and left Matt Gogel looking like a hoodwinked tourist.
More than anything, the money club, the putter, is the difference between a very good Woods and an unbeatable one. He made 136 feet, 11 inches worth of putts on Labor Day, including a 25-footer for birdie on the 420-yard, par-4 17th hole that pushed the lead to an insurmountable three strokes.
At his best, Woods has always had a seemingly supernatural ability to introduce his ball to the hole. It's his most unique asset in a one-of-a-kind arsenal, and it's one that U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman hopes will remain fully weaponized for the big event starting two weeks from this Friday. Byron Nelson's 1945 record of 11-straight tournament wins is still a long way off, leaving media and fans to ponder not the record book but the fact that Woods will be one of Ours and not one of Theirs when the biennial team event hits Ireland. He laughed during the trophy presentation ceremony when a boisterous fan bellowed that it was time to "kick European butt!"
The newly finalized U.S. squad flew to Dublin to play the K Club early last week, and although the team flew on a chartered jet, the joke du jour was that it was the closest Woods had come to flying commercial since 1998. The team will feature untested players in J.J. Henry, Zach Johnson, Vaughn Taylor and Brett Wetterich. Although Henry finished a respectable 6th (68-71-68-71) at the Deutsche Bank, the U.S. side, minus Woods, is playing uninspired golf. Lehman, perhaps flummoxed at the sudden rash of mediocrity among those trying to make his team, called Lucas Glover three times on the Sunday night of the PGA Championship—and then picked Cink and Scott Verplank.
Monday's fireworks from Woods were more of the same from the greatest player ever, whose next impossible task will be to put this out-manned U.S. team on his broad shoulders and carry it to victory, or at least a modicum of respect, in Ireland.