Hail, Tiger

Woods holds on to win 13th major, is just five short of Nicklaus' record

Austin, Els can't catch up as champion chases history

Pga Championship

August 13, 2007|By Thomas Bonk | Thomas Bonk,LOS ANGELES TIMES

TULSA, Okla. -- Row after row, they rose to their feet in the sun-splashed late afternoon and cheered as Tiger Woods reached the 18th green at Southern Hills Country Club, ready for another chapter of history to be written, this time right before their eyes.

He didn't keep them waiting for long. Woods carefully steered a three-foot par putt into the hole to conclude his round of 69, then picked the ball out of the cup, faced the gallery and raised both arms in his own salute.

Perhaps predictably, that's how the PGA Championship ended yesterday, with Woods the winner for a fourth time and second year in a row, his 13th major title safely tucked away and one step closer to the only record that matters to him.

His margin of victory was small, only two shots over Woody Austin, who had a 67, and by three over Ernie Els, who had a 66.

But the ramifications are great.

On this plateau, the only other name that matters belongs to Jack Nicklaus.

Woods is now five behind Nicklaus' record of 18 major championship victories.

"When you first start your career, 18 is just a long way away," Woods said. "And even though I'm at 13, it's still a long way away.

"It's one of those things where it's going to take some time. And hopefully, health permitting and everything goes right and I keep improving, I'll one day surpass that."

His race against Nicklaus just picked up some speed. Nicklaus won his 13th major title in his 53rd major as a professional, the 1975 Masters. He won his 14th major in his 56th start in a major, at the 1975 PGA Championship.

Woods' 13th major title was in his 44th major as a professional.

Nicklaus was 35 when he won his 13th major, while Woods is 31.

"If you would ask me that 12 years into my career would I have had this many wins and this many majors, there's no way. I've exceeded my own expectations, and I'm certainly not against that."

His 13 major championships are more than the rest of the players ranked in the top 10 combined.

Victory has its rewards, of course. Woods, who has won 59 PGA Tour events, five of them this year, banked $1.26 million for his latest victory.

But, as usual, it can't be all about money. The 89th PGA Championship and Woods' triumph might ultimately be remembered not only for the oppressive temperatures that reached at least 100 degrees every day, but also for the blistering 63 that Woods manufactured in Friday's second round when he came from six shots off the lead to two shots ahead.

The significance of that 7-under-par round should not be underestimated.

"Well, the 63 got me back in the tournament. It wasn't like I was out of the tournament, but I just felt like the winning score this year was probably going to be 4- or 5-under, and to go ahead and get it in one lump sum felt pretty good."

Woods had rounds of 71, 63, 69 and 69 for a total of 8-under 272.

Beginning the day with a three-shot lead over Stephen Ames, a four-shot lead over Austin and a six-shot lead over Els, Woods was 2-under after burying a 25-foot birdie putt at the eighth.

But both Austin and Els made a move while Woods started coming back to them. He drove it into the rough at the ninth and wound up with a bogey, and then three-putted the 14th for another bogey.

At that point, even par for the day, Woods was just one shot ahead of Austin, who made a run of three consecutive birdies beginning at the 11th. But Austin got no closer, and Els bogeyed the 16th after drawing within two shots of Woods.

"I think it's great that Ernie and I didn't let him just coast in," said Austin, who earned a spot on the Presidents Cup team with his performance. "You give anybody who is really good a four-shot lead - I beat him today, but it doesn't matter because he had four shots on me.

"He happens to be the best player in the world, but if you put any great player with a four-shot cushion, their odds are going to be pretty good."

Ames, who was playing alongside Woods, faded to a 6-over 76 and dropped to a tie for 12th.

And Woods made sure neither Austin nor Els could catch up at the 15th. Following his pattern of hitting irons off most tees, Woods hit a 4-iron and then a 7-iron to 10 feet. When he rolled in the putt for birdie, Woods had a two-shot lead with three to go, and three pars got the job done.

Els missed birdie putts from less than six feet at the ninth and 11th, and they added up. At the 16th, Els drove it into the left rough, leading to his bogey.

"Those three shots, you know, probably cost me," Els said. "But you know, still played a pretty good round."

As for Woods, his round was good enough. Woods has learned how to manage his game, how to tailor it to fit the course, how to hit shots under pressure and how to close the deal. He has never lost a major with at least a share of the lead going into the final round, and he's never lost a PGA Tour event with a lead of more than one shot.

"I certainly believe there is an art to winning," he said.

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