As usual, Woods doesn't flinch in face of strong competition

Other Voices

March 07, 2006|By DAVE HYDE | DAVE HYDE,SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

Miami -- There was only one question Sunday, and it was everywhere.

It was around the first tee for Daniel Chopra. It was along the final hole for David Toms. It was on the television after Camilo Villegas sank a birdie putt and shook a fist in the air.

"Can this young man do it?" the announcer asked.

Everyone wanted someone, anyone, to step up and challenge Tiger Woods in the final round of the Ford Championship at Doral. Not necessarily beat him. But push him. Test him. Pull even with Woods at the stoplight, rev the engine and see what might happen.

Woods wouldn't allow it, though. It was something to watch, his golfing greatness at work this way. In fact, it was the only thing to watch, so effectively did he drain the day of drama.

You know one of the constant questions around Woods is how an entire generation of golfers has wilted in his presence? Well, that wasn't the story Sunday.

The story was of Villegas, who shot a 67, pulling within one shot early on. And Woods responding with a birdie.

It was of Toms, who also shot a 67, pulling within a shot. And Woods then making birdies on his next two holes.

Woods was so good this tournament, for such long stretches, that he ended up coasting to victory despite bogeying his final two holes -- matching his over-par total for the first 70.

"Look, when he has a lead and is playing like that, well, you've got to be almost perfect," said Toms, who finished a stroke behind.

Twenty times now Woods has entered a final round with at least a two-stroke lead. Twenty times he has won. Think about that. Think about what it means to how he reacts to pressure, doesn't relax with leads and simply refuses to lose.

Here's what kind of Sunday this was: Woods was on the 14th tee. He hit a shot he didn't like. "Completely whiffed," he'd say later, though his immediate reaction said more: He simply dropped his club in the ultimate what-did-I-just-do? reaction.

"Aw-w-w," he groaned.

And the ball landed on the green. A bit left of where he wanted, perhaps, but it was on the green. He made an easy par. He completely whiffed by his standards, and he still had the same three-shot lead at that point.

"One bad hole," Woods would say of his final round.

That was No. 17. He hit over the green, chipped past the hole and missed a 6-foot putt. That put Toms a shot back. And, well, then you could make a case for Toms flinching. He three-putted the 18th. Woods then took a bogey to guarantee a safe win.

"It just goes to show you, when you play against Tiger, you can't slip up," Toms said.

This was more than another great tournament for Woods, though. It was another shot across the bow of golf. He has won three worldwide tournaments already this season, and he's talking like there's plenty more out there.

His confidence?

"Pretty high, considering I've put myself there in virtually every event, which is nice," he said.

His comfort level with his revamped swing?

"Put it this way: If I hit a couple of bad shots, I feel like it's not the end of the world," he said. "I can fix it and I can move on, and I can still post a really good number."

His preparation for The Masters next month?

"Still got some work to do," he said. "That's the beauty of it, that I can be better tomorrow than I am today."

Just a few years ago there were questions of Doral's health, about whether it could be a big player in the golf world again. Next year it becomes a World Golf Championship event that guarantees a field of all the top players.

Here's the extra good news for Doral: Woods has a history of winning the same event over and over. He has won at The Masters four times, at Bay Hill four times and at Firestone four times. He now has won at Doral in consecutive tournaments.

And, as Sunday's record 42,000 fans at Doral showed, there are three kinds of golf tournaments today: Those without Woods. Those with him. And those Woods wins, as he did again Sunday, looking great and making Doral look so, too.

David Hyde writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

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