Tiger's Slam Dunk at Doral

Tiger’s Slam Dunk at Doral

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Tiger Woods has won 13 of 24 WGC events, and five of the last seven.
Fred Vuich/SI

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.