Woods reclaims No. 1 spot on money list

THE world's No. 1 player has reclaimed the No. 1 spot on the PGA Tour money list.

CLIFTON BROWN

Tiger Woods (right) celebrates with his caddie Steve Williams as they walk up to the 18th green during the final round of the American Express Championship. -- Pic. AFP-

THE world's No. 1 player has reclaimed the No. 1 spot on the PGA Tour money list.

With a victory that was more tactical than spectacular, Tiger Woods won the American Express Championship by two strokes over Vijay Singh, Stuart Appleby and Tim Herron. The first-place cheque of $1.05 million lifted Woods into first place on the money list, a little more than $71,000 ahead of Singh, with five weeks left in the season.

Woods finished at six-under-par 274 after a two-over-par 72 in the final round to beat Singh (72), Appleby (68) and Herron (71).

No player has won five consecutive money titles, and no one has won the tour's player of the year award five consecutive times. But Woods is trying to do both.

His performance at the challenging Capital City Club, in a World Golf Championships event featuring 48 of the top 50 players in the world ranking, could sway many of Woods' peers in the player of the year voting. It was his fifth victory this year, the most on Tour, and while he did not win a major championship, neither did the other top two players on the money list, Singh and Davis Love III.

"To win against this field, on this golf course, with a major-type set up, it will have a lot of weight," said David Toms, who finished fifth.

Starting the final day with a two-stroke lead, Woods never trailed, and he showed his resourcefulness on a course where only seven of 72 players finished under par. When it was over, Woods was relieved and satisfied to beat a field that included the world's best on a testing course.

"I've always said I'd much rather play in a tournament like this, where the winning score is in the single digits," said Woods, whose 39th victory tied Gene Sarazan and Tom Watson for ninth on the Tour's career list. "Anytime you get to play against the best players, you can't get any better than that. It's not a watered-down field. These are the strongest fields, and that's what makes it so difficult to win these tournaments."

Woods has won 30 of 32 events when he has held or shared the lead after 54 holes. But this one was difficult.

Stuart Appleby of Australia finished runner-up. -- Pic. AFP-

Herron pulled to one stroke as Woods made the turn at No. 9, and after a terrible tee shot at No. 10 into the left rough, Woods' second shot stopped short of the green. But his next shot, a delicate pitch shot from 78 feet, landed softly and flowed down toward the hole, stopping five feet from the cup. He made the putt to save par, and nobody came within two strokes the rest of the way.

With no one making a strong run on the back nine, Woods made only one birdie on the back nine, as he took no unnecessary chances.

"Today was just being conservative," said Woods, who won for the first time since the Western Open in July and also won his first tournament using a new Nike driver. "I didn't have to try and shoot a low number."

As often happens, players chasing Woods found it difficult to avoid making mistakes. Singh three-putted for a bogey at No. 10 and played his final 11 holes without a birdie. Herron ruined his chances to win with consecutive bogeys at Nos. 14, 15 and 16.

"I finished horrible today," Herron said. "I had four three-putts on the back. I guess tomorrow I'll probably learn from this. Right now, I'm too disappointed and too angry to really think about it."

Woods left with happier thoughts, knowing he had delivered in a pressure situation. "If Vijay would have won, it would have been very difficult for me to win the money title, as well as player of the year," he said. "Right now, it still is kind of up for grabs."

But after his performance, Woods found himself in familiar territory — first on the leader board and first on the money list.

The victory for Woods was also the 100th Tour victory for his caddie, Steve Williams. "I was trying to get it done for him at one of the majors," Woods said. "I thought that would have been pretty sweet. That's why I think the British Open was so disappointing."

Woods has won seven of 14 starts in World Golf Championships events.

New York Times News Service