DUBLIN, Ohio - Pro golfers have a saying, an attitude, if you will. Something dramatic will happen, a great shot will be made, a short putt missed, the scoreboard numbers will flip and they will eye one another and think, “The game is on.”
Yesterday, in the final round of the Memorial Tournament, the game was on, then off, in almost the blink of an eye.
It happened on the par-5 fifth hole at Muirfield Village Golf Club. Paul Azinger stood in the fairway, about 10 yards behind Tiger Woods, some 260 yards from the flag, owning a one-shot lead.
Azinger, with no reason to force the issue, went right at the pin with a 3-wood shot and saw his ball splash into the creek fronting the left edge of the green. Woods then staked a 2-iron for a six-foot eagle putt.
The game was on. Woods made eagle. Azinger bogeyed. Tiger led by two. The game was over.
Woods, who closed with a 6-under 66 for a 17-under, 271 total, became the first player since Tom Watson two decades ago to win the same PGA Tour event three straight years and ran his Ohio winning streak to five straight with a Memorial record, seven-shot decision over Azinger (74) and Sergio Garcia (71) at 10-under 278.
“Right now, I would say he's probably the most dominant athlete in the history of sports,” Azinger said of Woods. “It's incredible.”
In the last three years, Woods has played 216 holes at Muirfield Village in 51 under par. He has scored below par in all 12 rounds, in the 60s in nine of them.
“I think if someone's going to be considered that way he has to be a little bigger than me,” Woods quipped while responding to Azinger's comment. “I'm just 6-feet tall and chase a little white ball around for a living.”
But nobody does it better, and, said tournament host Jack Nicklaus, no one ever has.
“I don't think anybody has dominated an individual sport anywhere near the level Tiger has, “ Nicklaus said.
Tiger's dominance on the par-5 holes was the difference in this, his fourth tour triumph of the year. He played 16 par-5 holes over four rounds and finished 14-under par with three eagles. His two closest pursuers, Garcia and Azinger, were 6-under and 2-under, respectively, on those same holes.
“Tiger's par-5 play is just phenomenal, “ praised Stewart Cink, who finished fourth at 9-under after a closing 71. “What was he? Fourteen under? He's almost guaranteed of being 10-under every week. All he has to do is kick it around the rest of the way. “
Woods had an eagle and two birdies on the par-5 holes yesterday and credited some “beautiful long iron shots “ for his success on those holes during all four rounds.
“Tiger played terrific and I'm not sure anything I might have done would have made any difference,” Azinger said. “But it was a mental mistake, maybe, going for the green at No. 5. My thinking was that I had to go for it because Tiger was hitting iron. Wedge play was my strength all week, though, and I probably should have laid up and played to my strength. It certainly was a momentum shift. I pressed a little after that and couldn't put anything together.”
Azinger might have seen the writing on the wall a hole earlier. At the par-3 fourth hole, Woods pulled his tee shot left into double bogey territory. But the ball hit a tree, rattled around and bounced dead right into a greenside bunker. Woods blasted to six inches to save par and Azinger could do no better.
“I got lucky on 4 because I hit a fat hook, a terrible shot,” Woods said. “Then, on 5, it was uncharacteristic of Paul to make a mistake like that. All I wanted to do then was get it up in the air and keep it dry. And I absolutely flushed a 2-iron.”
After the three-shot swing at No. 5, Azinger followed with another bogey when he airmailed the sixth green with his approach shot, then fell further into arrears when Woods birdied the seventh hole, another par 5.
Japan's Toru Taniguchi (69) and Vijay Singh (71) tied for fifth at 8-under 280. Appleby's 74 left him at 7-under with Kenny Perry (69) and Robert Allenby (73).
In addition to three straight Memorial titles, Woods also has back-to-back wins at the World Golf Championships/NEC Invitational at Firestone Country Club in Akron. He'll defend that crown in late August, but will first turn his attention to his U.S. Open title defense, June 14-17, in Tulsa, Okla.,where he will attempt to extend his major championship streak to five straight.
2002 HONOREES: Former LPGA star Kathy Whitworth, the winningest pro golfer in history with 88 victories, and four-time British Open champion Bobby Locke will be the honorees at next year's Memorial Tournament. Locke's selection is the first of what will be an annual posthumous selection.
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