FARMINGDALE, N.Y., June 16 - Tiger Woods didn’t even need to pump a fist for this one. A victory lap so methodical even a thunderstorm barely delayed it ended Sunday with Woods holding aloft his second U.S. Open trophy and his challengers marveling once again at the different ways he does it.
“I DIDN’T SEE JACK Nicklaus in his prime, but it doesn’t get much better than this,” Sergio Garcia said.
Like Nicklaus, Woods found another way to win a major this time around. He did it by hitting fairways and greens, making pars in a tournament where pars are king.
Woods also did it by fixing his icy stare on the golf ball, refusing to allow the raucous crowd or his challengers even enter his mind.
And he did it by not getting shook up by the incessant waggles of playing partner Garcia or two uncharacteristic three-putts on the first two holes.
In the final round of one of the toughest tests of championship golf ever, he did it so well he was putting for birdie on 17 of the 18 holes.
It didn’t matter that only two of the birdie putts went in or that he won with a 2-over 72. What mattered was there was never really any doubt he would win.
“He was in a zone. He can put himself in a zone,” said Earl Woods, who celebrated Father’s Day with another of his son’s wins.
InsertArt(1527311)That zone took a bit more time to develop than Woods might have liked. Woods made a bad lag putt on the first hole and made bogey, then missed a 2-footer on the second hole for another bogey.
Garcia thought he saw a break in Woods’ impenetrable facade.
“I thought he’s a little nervous and he felt the pressure,” Garcia said.
Woods settled down to hit nearly every fairway and green the rest of the way in. His challengers, only two shots back after the third hole, never made enough birdies to get any closer the rest of the way in.
“This one was hard-fought,” Woods said. “This was brutal how hard this golf course was playing.”
Garcia tried to turn it into a friendly round, but Woods had little time for chit-chat.
InsertArt(1527313)Garcia pretended to urge Woods’ ball to the hole on the third green and then tried to engage him in conversation, only to be met by silence. This was a day to take care of some serious business, a day to get halfway to the Grand Slam.
It took the young Spaniard another hole to finally get the message.
On the fourth hole, Garcia acted like a kid trying to crash the party when he went into a fairway bunker on the fourth hole and climbed out with a divot Woods had just deposited there.
If Garcia was going to give it to Woods, it was too late. Woods had already walked by, eyes focused straight ahead, heading toward the green.
“I gave it my best shot,” Garcia said. “It was a little frustrating.”
Most of the 50,000 or so fans crowding Bethpage Black seemed eager for a showdown between Woods and Garcia, who were paired in the final group. And, after Woods’ bogeys on the first two holes, it looked like they would get one.
What they got instead was nearly mistake-free play by Woods the rest of the way.
He missed only two fairways and was putting for birdies on every hole until he found sand on the 16th. By then it was over anyway, with Woods leading Mickelson by four shots and Garcia by six.
There were no dramatics, no theatrics. It was simply the world’s best player refusing to allow anyone back in the game.
The only question was whether a 49-minute rain delay with Woods on the 11th green would delay his victory lap another day.
It didn’t, and the only remaining doubt was what the final winning margin would be.
Indeed, the only emotion from Woods came after he sank his final putt to win. He raised his arms in triumph, flashed a big smile to the crowd and said, “Yes!”
For another day, he had fulfilled his father’s promise to him that he would never meet another player as tough as he is.
“He hasn’t, and he won’t,” Earl Woods said.
© 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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