Woods teeters, streak falls

Down by 7, he rallies to tie, but Mickelson holds on

run ends at 6

February 14, 2000|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

SAN DIEGO -- Tiger Woods scratched and scraped. He struggled with his driver from the moment he stepped to the first tee for the final round of the Buick Invitational yesterday at scenic Torrey Pines. He adjusted and readjusted.

And he almost pulled it off.

He staged another sensational comeback, erasing a seven-stroke deficit in a span of seven holes, but his magical string of consecutive tournament victories ended at six when Woods finally lost the battle against himself late.

Phil Mickelson, who entered the final day of play with a two-stroke lead over Japanese upstart Shigeki Maruyama and a commanding six-stroke advantage over Woods, appeared to be on the verge of a monumental collapse when a pair of double bogeys allowed Woods to tie for the lead on the 13th hole. But Mickelson righted himself to finish with an 18-under 270 and a four-stroke victory.

Woods settled for a second-place tie with Maruyama at 274, but the $264,000 paycheck was enough to vault him past fourth-place finisher Davis Love and into the top spot on the PGA's all-time money list at more than $12.8 million.

It had been just six days since Woods overcame a seven-stroke deficit over the final seven holes to score a miraculous win at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and equal history's second-longest string of tour victories. Ben Hogan won six straight in 1948. Woods nearly took a step closer to Byron Nelson's 1945 record streak of 11 tournament victories, but contented himself with the fact that he remained competitive on a day when his swing clearly was out of sync.

"To even be under par the way I was hitting it today is kind of a miracle," Woods said. "Through the 13th hole, I hit six greens and [was] 5-under. I was proud to be able to hang in there. I just wasn't hitting it good enough to give myself a viable chance to go all the way."

Mickelson certainly left an opening. He held a seven-stroke lead after six holes, but doubled on No. 7 and fluffed a short sand wedge shot to double again on No. 11, allowing Woods to climb out of a seemingly impossible situation. When Woods birdied the 13th hole to tie for the lead at 15-under, Mickelson appeared to be on the verge of a classic meltdown.

He didn't do anything to dispel that notion when he pushed his tee shot on No. 13 well into the trees on the left side of the fairway, but Mickelson calmly punched out and hit his third shot to within 3 feet of the pin. The birdie putt moved him back on top, and he quickly added to his new lead with another birdie on 14.

"The big turnaround for me was hitting that 9-iron within about 3 feet on 13," Mickelson said. "After that, I felt that I was back in my game again, and I could do what I needed to do. That 13th hole was definitely the turning point."

It also was the turning point for Woods, who bogeyed two of the next three holes to drop back into third place. He needed a birdie on 18 to pull into a second-place tie with Maruyama.

"It's disappointing that I didn't win," said Woods, who is scheduled to play in this weekend's Los Angeles Open, "but the one positive thing is, you saw how poorly I played. I didn't hit the ball as well as I would have liked, and I didn't putt that well in the early rounds. To chip back and stay in it I'm proud of that."

The numbers don't lie. Woods hit six fairways and reached 10 greens in regulation. He survived on good luck and guile from the outset, when his tee shot on the first hole sailed wide-left, but struck a lawn chair and bounced back onto the fairway to set him up for a birdie.

Mickelson earned $540,000 for his 14th tour victory and his first win in two years. He had not won since scoring a rain-shortened victory in the 1998 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

"This is a very important win for me," Mickelson said. "I had not won in a while and I wanted to win again. It also was important to go head-to-head with the best player in the world and show I can compete with him."

If it also was important to knock the streaking Woods down a notch and get a headline for someone else on the tour, Mickelson wasn't about to admit it, even though it is common knowledge that some players have grown weary of Tigermania because of the way his army of fans affects the playing environment.

"I felt some support from other players," Mickelson said, "but Tiger is creating a lot of excitement about golf and I am one of the beneficiaries of that. All of the players are beneficiaries of what he is doing, and I have to give him some thanks for that. But I wasn't going to hand it [the tournament] to him, even if it looked like I was."

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