AKRON — They say par is a good score in a major. If that’s true next week at the PGA Championship, then Tiger Woods is already dialed in.
Woods played safe and smart with a big lead, parring 16 holes in an even-par 70 Sunday to coast to a seven-shot victory at the Bridgestone Invitational for his eighth win at the event — matching the PGA Tour record he shares for victories in a single tournament.
As he walked to the scorer’s trailer to finalize his score, he scooped up young son Charlie.
After a second-round 61 in which he flirted with 59, Woods ended up at 15-under 265 to easily beat defending champ Keegan Bradley and Henrik Stenson.
Woods’ mastery at Firestone Country Club allowed him to again match Sam Snead’s PGA Tour record for wins in an event. Snead won the Greater Greensboro Open eight times. Earlier this year, Woods won at Bay Hill for the eighth time.
As if he weren’t already the favorite next week in the PGA Championship at Oak Hill, the lopsided victory reinforced it.
No one ever got within six shots all day of the world’s No. 1.
When he had a good shot at a pin, he took it. Otherwise, he took few, if any, risks.
He had birdied the short, par-4 first hole each of the first three days, and had played the second in 3 under as well. But he came up just short on the opening hole and chipped up for an easy par. At the second, he found a fairway bunker off the tee, blasted out and hit his approach to 10 feet but his birdie putt skidded off the edge. Tap-in par.
That’s pretty much the way it went the first nine holes, until Woods stuffed his second shot at the par-4 10th inside 8 feet and then poured in the birdie putt to break up a string of pars.
That briefly pushed the lead to eight shots. It never fell below seven as the field had difficulty putting up many birdies as Firestone dried out, the greens got faster and the old course bared its fangs.
A three-putt at the 14th hole brought Woods’ lone bogey, but by then most of the field was thinking about catching flights to Rochester instead of catching Woods.
Bradley, who won a year ago when Jim Furyk double-bogeyed the 72nd hole, shot a 67 to get to 8 under along with Stenson, who had a 70 while playing with Woods.
Tied for fourth were Cleveland-born Jason Dufner (71), Miguel Angel Jimenez (69) and Zach Johnson (67) at 6 under, with Martin Kaymer, who matched the day’s best round with a 66, at 4 under along with Furyk, Richard Sterne and Luke Donald.
For those betting Woods won’t win next week at Oak Hill, keep in mind that he has already won both the Bridgestone and the PGA Championship in the same year three times in his career (2000, 2006, 2007).
Still, the odds do not favor him coming right back with another win. In the 19 times in which he has won his last start before a major, he’s only followed up with a win four times: 2000 U.S. Open (after winning The Memorial), 2001 Masters (Players), 2006 PGA (Buick) and 2007 PGA (Bridgestone).
The victory was Woods’ 79th on the PGA Tour, drawing him within three of Snead’s record 82 triumphs.
Lest anyone think he’ll have difficulty surpassing Snead’s total, consider that Woods is over 10 years younger (he’s 37½) than Snead was when he won his 82nd and final event, the 1965 Greater Greensboro.
Even though he’s a California native, Woods has found a second home in Ohio where he’s collected 13 victories — also including five at the Memorial Tournament.
Woods won the Bridgestone, and it’s forerunner the NEC Invitational, about every way imaginable: overcoming a crazy shot that went onto the clubhouse roof, putting out in almost total darkness, running away early, outdueling a foe down the stretch.
Woods, who has five wins this year to have at least that many in a year for the 10th time, also has won 18 World Golf Championship series events in just 42 starts.
Really, he won the tournament in the rain on Friday.
The 61 he had in the second round — he needed to go just 2 under over the final five holes to shoot a magical 59 — matched his career best, mustered three previous times including once before at Firestone.
In the two previous times he won the Bridgestone and then played in the PGA Championship, he finished first at Southern Hills in 2007 and then placed second — blowing a final-round lead to Y.E. Yang — in 2009 at Hazeltine.
He’s far from a lock next week, however.
Woods has not won in his last 17 starts in a major, calling into question his shot at surpassing Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 victories in majors. Woods has 14 — and all eyes will be on him as he heads to Pittsford, N.Y.