LEMONT, Ill., July 6 - Tiger Woods is going to the British Open with a little bit of history on his side. And more than a little confidence to boot.
Woods cruised to victory Sunday in the 100th Western Open, his 38th career victory on the PGA Tour and fourth of the season. It marks his fifth straight year with at least four victories, a feat no one else has managed - not Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan or Arnold Palmer.
Hogan, Palmer, Tom Watson and Lloyd Mangrum had four straight years with four or more victories.
“That is pretty nice to have that happen,” Woods said. “That means I’ve been consistent. I’ve been able to not only be consistent, but also to close the deal, too.”
And this is a guy who some say is in a slump? Blame it on the fact that he doesn’t hold one of the four major championship titles for the first time in four years.
But he can change that when they go to Royal St. George’s in two weeks for the British Open.
“It’s certainly a shot of confidence, no doubt about it,” he said of going into the British Open with a victory. “Any time you win, you’ve got to feel pretty good about it. As I said, the things I’ve been working on are starting to come together.
“Hopefully they’ll come together more so at the British Open than they did this week.”
Woods is the fifth three-time winner at the Western, the oldest stop on the PGA Tour. Hogan, Nicklaus and Palmer each won the Western twice.
And his impressive numbers don’t stop there. He shot a 69 Sunday, giving him 21-under 267 for the tournament. That matches the tournament record set in 2001 by Scott Hoch.
He missed an 11-footer for par on the 18th that would have given him the record.
Woods led the entire tournament, the first wire-to-wire winner at the Western since Nick Price in 1993. It’s the fifth wire-to-wire victory in Woods’ career.
“We’ve got a guy who’s superhuman out here this week,” said Rich Beem, who finished five strokes behind Woods. “There’s going to be times when he does this to fields, but that’s OK.”
But give Beem credit, he at least added a small diversion to the inevitable. The winner of last year’s PGA Championship opened the back nine with three birdies and an eagle in his first five holes to pull within five shots of Woods.
“I actually thought I had a glimmer of hope after the putt on 14” that got him within five, Beem said. “I got his attention. We went back to the locker room and he said, ‘Hey, slow down, man.”’
Beem couldn’t take advantage of his last par-5, though, ending whatever slim chances he might have had of catching Woods.
“Rich got it going on the back nine and made it interesting,” Woods said. “I knew that if he birdied out, I would have to make some pars coming in in order to win the tournament. I was able to do that.”
Jim Furyk, back in Chicago for the first time since winning the U.S. Open three weeks ago, finished seven shots behind Woods in a three-way tie for third. Mike Weir and defending champion Jerry Kelly also finished at 274.
But, really, what chance did anyone have of catching Woods? This victory was almost in the bag even before he teed off Sunday. Of the 31 tournaments he’s led after 54 holes, he’s won all but two. Plus with a six-stroke cushion to start, all he had to do was play it safe, and the victory - not to mention the $810,000 paycheck - was his.
He did better than that, though. The first 11 holes at Cog Hill’s Dubsdread course are as birdie friendly as an aviary, and Woods took advantage. He had five birdies and only one bogey through 11, and needed just 13 putts.
Even with his closest rivals so far back they may as well have been on a different round, he didn’t let up.
“I just tried to shoot about 3- or 4-under par on the front nine and just basically put it out of reach,” he said. “I just tried to make sure I got off to a positive start, and I was able to do that today.”
He was clearly irked when he pushed his drive left and into deep rough off the par-4 No. 7. He still had a clear shot at the green, though, and he made a beautiful recovery, putting the ball pin-high on the edge of the green, about 18 feet from the hole.
The ball curled around the edge of the cup and finally dropped in, drawing a fist pump from Woods and cheers from the crowd. He wore a wide grin as he turned around to acknowledge the crowd.
He added another birdie on the eighth hole. About 10 feet from the pin, he curved the ball up and around toward the hole. It looked as if it wouldn’t break enough to drop, and Woods leaned forward on one leg, as if willing the ball to go in.
It did, getting him to 22 under. Another birdie on the 10th got him to 23 under, 10 strokes ahead of Beem.
Two rain delays totaling more than three hours seemed to disrupt his rhythm. He had two bogeys over the last eight holes, and missed a couple of makable birdie putts.
But with as big a lead as he’d built, it hardly mattered.
“He just kind of got in a groove,” Beem said. “When you get into a groove, golf seems really easy and fun, and for him, it’s even easier than it is for everyone else. Obviously, he’s got unbelievable amounts of game.”
Divots: Woods is now in second place on the money list with $4,252,420. That’s less than $10,000 behind Weir. ... Woods also won the Western Open in 1997 and 1999. ... Furyk has 12 top-10 finishes before the British Open, one shy of the record set by Lee Trevino and Tom Kite. ... As heavy rain came down during the second delay, a fan making his way off the course stopped and jumped in the big pond off the 18th green.
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