Tiger Woods destroyed the rest of the field Sunday at Firestone Country Club in Akron, winning the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational by eight strokes, shooting eight under par on the historic course that bared its teeth as if the golfers were competing in a U.S. Open. Slick fairways, lightning fast greens, and punitive rough resulted in Tiger being the only one of the eighty-three golfers breaking par.
On a day when rain was a constant companion, Tiger was nearly perfect, refusing to back down or accept any imperfection on his card, pumping his fist in joy after rolling in a twelve foot par save on number 18 to give him a bogey-free round. But for the most part, Tiger did not have to struggle. He was hitting the fairways with remarkable consistency, correcting a problem that has dogged him throughout the year. His putting was also impeccable, as he did not miss a single putt from inside of eight feet. Tiger was the only player in the competition that did not record a single double-bogey in any of the four rounds...an amazing statistic considering the tough playing conditions.
But despite Tiger's consistent play in the first three rounds, he still found himself in second by one stroke to Rory Sabbitini, who had jumped into the lead on the first day with a three-under 67, repeated that score on Friday to push his lead over Woods to four, and then maintained the lead through 54 holes.
At the start of Sunday's round, the final group appeared to be ready to supply some fantastic drama, as it was the first time Tiger and Sabbatini had faced off on a Sunday since that infamous May afternoon at the Wachovia Championship in Charlotte. In that competition, Woods had come from one stroke down to win while the young South African had choked away the lead, shooting a 74 to finish tied for third.
Sabbatini's response to his Wachovia collapse? He derided Woods as "more beatable than ever", and said that he "liked the new Tiger". Woods, normally reluctant to get into these types of skirmishes, was obviously a little thrown by being criticized after a win, leading to an un-Tiger like (but hilarious) response, as Tiger fired back that he had "won nine of the last twelve events" he had played and that he "had as many wins this year (3) as Sabbitini had for his entire career".
Needless to say, the Northeast Ohio fans weren't exactly cuddling up to the brash and prickly golfer, already viewed as a spoiled brat, and they let it be known throughout the round. At one point, a fan was pointed out by Sabbitini and ejected from the grounds for yelling out "how beatable is Tiger, now?" Tiger managed to get in another slight jab at Sabbitini in recounting the episode, stating that he and Sergio Garcia took much worse abuse at Bethpage Black a few years earlier in the U.S. Open and that players "have to become immune to it".
In any case, it seemed that "the old Tiger" was back on Sunday with his steely gaze, powerful stride, and completely ruthless competitiveness in full exhibition along with his incredible shot making abilities. Birdies by Tiger and Rory on the first hole gave people the false hope that a dramatic shootout was about to be witnessed. When Tiger birdied the second hole to pull even, casual fans might have anticipated the upcoming battle, but long-time observers could tell the difference. Tiger was clearly on his game, and Sabbitini was already doubting himself.
For all intents and purposes, the tournament was over on the par 4 fourth hole. Tiger rolled in a 17 footer for the birdie while Sabbitini was unable to recover from one of many trips to the right rough, resulting in a bogey and a two shot swing. That lead had increased to six at the turn following a Sabbitini double-bogey on nine, and from that point, the only things left to decide were second place, and seeing if anyone else could finish under par.
No one could. Firestone South was just too tough for the week, with only two other players even scoring par for the tournament. Justin Rose shot a respectable two-under 68 on the final day to tie Sabbitini for second place. Peter Lonard and Chris DiMarco finished at one over to tie for fourth.
But the day was all about Tiger as he won the tournament for the third straight time and his sixth win at Firestone, tying him with Jack Nicklaus (Augusta) and Alex Ross (Pinehurst) for the most wins at the same course. It is also the second time that he has won three straight at Firestone, winning the 1999-2001 tournaments as well.
It is also obvious that Tiger loves the World Golf Championship series. Three times a year the world's best meet in these invitationals, and in the twenty-five events staged thus far, Tiger has won fourteen of them. That is worth repeating. Tiger has won 14. The rest of the planet combined has won 11.
So with career win number 58 in the books, Tiger now looks to be the prohibitive favorite going into this year's final major; the PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Temperatures are expected to be near 100 for each day of the tournament...which might just be as hot as Tiger's game at this point.