Tiger Woods wins to end a slump that never was

Tiger Woods ended talk that his game was slipping by capturing the 100th Western Open. For good measure, he tied a few tournament records along the way.

DAVID PICKER

Tiger Woods leaves the course due to a weather delay during the final round of the Western Open at Cog Hill Golf and Country Club in Lemont, Illinois. Woods won the championship with a 21-under-par 267.-Pic. ANDY LYONS/GETTY IMAGES

Tiger Woods ended talk that his game was slipping by capturing the 100th Western Open. For good measure, he tied a few tournament records along the way.

Woods finished at 21-under-par 267, tying the 72-hole mark set by Scott Hoch in 2001. But he missed a 12-foot par putt on the 18th hole that would have given him a 266 and sole possession of the record. In the opening round, Woods tied the course and tournament records with a 63.

Woods, who shot a final-round 69, said he was aware of Hoch's record when he approached the green at No. 18 because a reporter kept telling him all week that he was closing in on it. "I was aware of it on the last putt, but also I wanted to make sure that I didn't run it by either and look like an idiot three-putting,'' said Woods, who won for the 38th time and for the fourth time this season.

Woods two-putted for bogey and acknowledged the gallery with a wave. It was not the most exuberant victory celebration of his career, but the gallery ate it up. Golf fans have been waiting for this moment for the three and a half months since Woods last won.

The first 99 years of the Western Open produced champions like Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. "This place has been very special,'' Woods said. Woods became the first player to lead from start to finish here since Nick Price in 1993. He became the tournament's fifth three-time winner, after victories in 1997 and 1999. Walter Hagen holds the record with five Western Open victories.

Rich Beem fired a final-round 67 to finish second at 272. He made five birdies and an eagle to keep Woods honest. But the final round was essentially a formality as Woods began the day at Cog Hill Golf and Country Club with a six-shot advantage.

"Obviously, he's got unbelievable amounts of game,'' Beem said of Woods. "I could sit there and watch him hit golf balls all day long.''

Jim Furyk, who won the U.S. Open at nearby Olympia Fields three weeks ago, tied Mike Weir and Jerry Kelly, the defending champion, for third at 274. Furyk shot the day's best round, 65.

Woods received an $810,000 cheque and has won $4,252,420 this year.Willie Smith, the winner of the first Western Open in 1899, took home a whopping $50! When the tournament began, Woods was inundated with questions about his recent play. Why hadn't he won since the Bay Hill Invitational in mid-March? Why was he ranked a career-low 30th in driving distance? Why doesn't he own any major titles for the first time since 1999?

But was Woods in a slump? He says no, and some key statistics back him up. Woods entered the Western Open having won three of the nine PGA Tour events he had played. And three months is not a long time between tournament victories, unless your name is Tiger Woods.

Woods exceeded expectations, handling the par-5s in 13 under par and hitting 66 percent of the fairways."It's certainly a shot of confidence, there's no doubt about that,'' Woods said. "Any time you win, you've got to feel pretty good about it. The things I've been working on are starting to come together.''

Woods made the turn at four-under 32, with five birdies to offset one bogey. He went as low as 23 under for the tournament when he tapped in for a birdie on the 10th hole. At that point, he had a 10-stroke lead over Beem and Robert Allenby.

But with Woods on the 11th tee, a storm forced a 1-hour 38-minute delay.

After resuming play, Woods went par-par-par-bogey on his next four holes. Beem, meanwhile, eagled the 11th with a sensational 229-yard approach and birdied the 12th. A 10-stroke lead was trimmed to 7.

When Woods was on the 15th hole, play was delayed again, this time for 1:27. His lead was only five strokes over Beem. But when play resumed, Woods parred three of the next four holes to wrap up the victory.

"Today I just tried to shoot about three or four under par on the front nine and just basically put it out of reach; I did that for a good part of it,'' Woods said before noting Beem's challenge. "Then he got it going on the back nine and made it interesting.''

The scores: final round; Tiger Woods, $810,000, 63-70-65-69 — 267; Rich Beem, $486,000, 69-71-65-67 — 272; Jim Furyk, $234,000, 71-66-72-65 — 274; Mike Weir, $234,000, 67-70-69-68 — 274; Jerry Kelly, $234,000, 66-72-68-68 — 274; Robert Allenby, $156,375, 69-67-68-71 — 275; Cliff Kresge, $156,375, 67-68-69-71 — 275; Fredrik Jacobson, $130,500, 69-74-67-66 — 276; Chad Campbell, $130,500, 67-73-69-67 — 276; Dudley Hart, $130,500, 73-65-70-68 — 276.

New York Times News Service