PALM DESERT, Calif., July 29 - Tiger Woods turned in another prime-time performance. Jack Nicklaus produced one last memorable shot. The best two players of their generations were simply the best Monday night as Woods made nine birdies in 16 holes and carried his 62-year-old idol to a 3 and 2 victory over Sergio Garcia and Lee Trevino in the Battle at Bighorn.
InsertArt(1574679)THE ONLY DISAPPOINTMENT was the way it ended, with Woods making a 3-foot par putt to halve the hole and win the match. It was the only hole that none of the four players birdied.
This was more like the Battle of Birdies.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Woods said. “You had to make birdie to win the hole. That was incredible.”
Nicklaus had his moments, too.
The Golden Bear, in what might have been his last performance before a national television audience of this size, knocked down the flag with a 7-iron on the ninth hole for a tap-in birdie that sent the gallery into a frenzy.
It wasn’t the 1972 U.S. Open, where Nicklaus produced the signature shot of his career by hitting the stick on the 17th at Pebble Beach. Still, Trevino has seen enough of Nicklaus to know what was coming.
“Jack loves to knock it stiff when he’s got all the people watching,” Trevino said.
Woods was so dominant that he was 9 under through 16 holes and didn’t even get a chance at two birdie putts inside 10 feet.
“I did all right,” Woods said in mock understatement. “I broke 80, didn’t I?”
That’s something he couldn’t say in the third round of the British Open, where he posted an 81 in raging wind and rain. The only element Monday were temperatures that topped out at 107 degrees.
That, and putting up with Trevino. The “Merry Mex” contributed three birdies and most of the conversation, jabbering so much that he only stopped long enough to hit the ball.
And the night wasn’t a total loss for Garcia, the 22-year-old Spaniard known lately for the countless waggles and regrips. Nicklaus tried to counsel him on the strange habit, telling Garcia that he, too, was guilty of slow play.
“Finally, I had a couple of penalty times and I learned to play faster,” Nicklaus told him.
Despite making five birdies, Garcia got another lesson that he knows all too well.
“We had our chances, but we missed too many putts on the front nine,” he said. “When you’re playing against a guy of this caliber, if you don’t make the putts, you can’t afford it.”
InsertArt(1574680)Nicklaus had not played with Woods since the first two rounds of the 2000 PGA Championship at Valhalla, where Woods went on to win in a playoff for his third out of four consecutive majors.
“I know now that I have no business playing on the regular tour,” Nicklaus said. “If you see the way Tiger and Sergio play, there’s no such thing as a par-5 anymore. My partner was great. And I like to win.”
So does Woods, who came out with a focus that belied the hit-and-giggle event. Garcia is the only player to have beaten Woods in the Battle at Bighorn, and Woods seemed bent on gaining some revenge in the middle of a team event.
It all led to a far more compelling match than last year, when hot blasts of desert wind, ridiculously tough conditions and an alternate-shot format guaranteed a snoozer in a mixed-team match featuring Woods and Annika Sorenstam against David Duval and Karrie Webb.
That wasn’t the only difference.
The conversation was off the charts, most of it thanks to the Merry Mex.
Trevino started gabbing from the moment he arrived on the practice range, and stopped only long enough to hit the ball.
Woods spoke volumes with his clubs.
He got off to a blazing start by hitting his approach into 6 feet for birdie on the first hole, then making a 15-footer for birdie on No. 2.
“If he keeps doing that, there’s no sense putting the lights up,” Trevino said to Garcia.
Trevino must have wanted to see those lights, because he answered with birdie putts of 10 and 15 feet on the next two holes to square the match, and Garcia got in on the act with a 12-foot birdie putt on the par-3 sixth hole for a 1-up lead.
That was fleeting.
Woods and Nicklaus won the next four holes, the turning point coming on No. 8 when all four players had the hole surrounded.
Nicklaus went first, rifling a 2-iron into 12 feet. Woods hit 5-iron, and the ball stopped about 10 inches from going into the hole. He caught Nicklaus looking at his choice of club and said, “I just took a little off it.”
Trevino and Garcia both pulled their 10-foot putts to fall 1-down, then Nicklaus finally contributed with a shot that brought out the loudest roar of the match - a 7-iron that hit the flag and stopped a foot away.
“That was the highlight,” Woods said. “Lee called it. He said, ‘Jack is going to hit this one stiff.”’
Trevino and Woods slapped hands as the crowd roared.
This time, there was plenty to applaud.
© 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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