big storms slow play at the PODS Championship

The wind was blowing hard enough to sweep sand out of the bunkers and knock down scores Friday at the PODS Championship. Jeff Maggert used it to his advantage.

Starting his second round with the wind at his back, Maggert birdied three of his opening four holes and hung on long enough to be leading by three shots at the turn when play was suspended for the rest of the day because of storms.

Maggert was at 8-under par, three shots ahead of Kenny Perry and D.J. Trahan. For the second straight day, none of the late starters came close to finishing the round.

”I’ve only played 27 holes,” Maggert said. ”I’ve got a lot of the tournament in front of me. Even though I have the lead now, I’m not really looking at my position. I’m just trying to play solid and give myself an opportunity to finish off this round with a good score.”

About 15 minutes after the siren sounded to stop play, the sky opened and dumped even more rain on the Copperhead course at Innisbrook. That might not be a bad thing, for softer greens at least gave players a fighting chance.


 

”At least it’s not cold yet,” said Mark Calcavecchia, the defending champion who shot a 1-under 70 and was tied for the clubhouse lead at 3-under 139 with two-time U.S. Open championLee Janzen (74), Billy Mayfair (71), Stuart Appleby (73) and Paul Casey (72).

Calgary’s Stephen Ames was 1-over par after seven holes when play was halted, following a 71 on Thursday. Jon Mills of Oshawa, Ont., shot a 78 on Friday to go 7-over par.

Only three players among the early starters managed to break 70, with Tim Petrovic and Kevin Sutherland leading the way at 68.

Everyone braced for scores to tumble in the afternoon, so it was a surprise to see Maggert play as though this were the Bob Hope Classic on a calm day in the desert.

Along with getting the good end of the draw, however, Maggert started his second round on the right side of the course.

He holed an 8-foot birdie putt on the par-5 first hole, then hit driver with the wind at his back 324 yards, leaving him a simple pitch from 78 yards to 5 feet for another birdie. His first big test was the par-3 fourth, which played into the wind. Maggert hammered a 4-iron that fed to the middle of the green, from where he holed an 18-foot birdie.

Others were long gone by then.

Ernie Els, coming off a victory last week in the Honda Classic, birdied his last two holes to salvage a 73, leaving him at 4-over 146 and likely to miss the cut.

”It’s very tough, demanding golf,” he said. ”I didn’t quite have it.”

Davis Love III was 3 under for his first three holes until he started giving shots back, shooting 72 to miss the cut for the second time since returning from ankle surgery.

Six players failed to break 80, including David Toms (81), which might end up costing him a spot in the World Golf Championship in two weeks at Doral.

John Daly also shot 80 for the first time this year.

Janzen, winless since his second U.S. Open title 10 years ago at Olympic Club, played 21 holes on Friday. He returned in the morning to finish his first round, hitting a 3-iron off the pine needles to 20 feet for birdie on the tough 16th to catch first-round leader Bart Bryant at 6-under 65. The next 18 holes were more of a struggle.

The layers of clouds moved quickly over the course behind 45 km/h wind, the kind that exposes the slightest mistakes. Janzen is playing better, but the wind showed him he’s not quite there yet. He made five bogeys, but cobbled enough birdies together to stay in the hunt.

”It’s an extreme challenge to play in the wind,” he said. ”As the round went on, I didn’t quite have my game. I was hoping to run out of holes quick.”

Calcavecchia also had a long day with mixed results, starting with a chip-in for eagle on the 14th hole of his first round in the morning, hanging on for dear life later in the morning to complete his second round. The wind got so strong that he barely cleared the large pond in front of the tee on the par-5 fifth, and he made fun of short-hitting Corey Pavin for waiting on a lull to get over the water.

”That’s the only way he could clear the water,” Calcavecchia said.

A year ago, Calcavecchia narrowly made the cut, then shot 62 in the third round that carried him to victory.

”There won’t be any 62s today or tomorrow,” he said.

Not even the temperature?

”Maybe a 52 with the wind chill,” he said.

A cold front was due, along with more wind, and several players already spent a week in the wind at the Honda Classic.

The 71 players who didn’t finish the second round were to return at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, and no telling what the weather was going to do. Janzen and Calcavecchia had no idea where 3 under would leave them going into the third round, only that they wouldn’t be far off.

”It’s difficult to say whether you get the good side of the draw or the bad side,” Casey said. ”But it’s nice to come out here this morning and just get it done. I’m very, very happy to get in the clubhouse and watch these guys go through what I went through today.”

Ernie Els Wins the Honda Classic at 6 under par.

Ernie Els was part of another final-round blunder. Only this time, he was the beneficiary.

Ending nearly a four-year drought between PGA Tour victories, Els shot a 3-under 67 Sunday to win The Honda Classic. He finished at 6 under, one shot better than Luke Donald (71) and two ahead of Nathan Green (67).

But this final round will probably be best remembered for Mark Calcavecchia’s chip that wouldn’t stop, because that ultimately was the break Els needed to finally hoist a winner’s trophy once again.

“It has to feel even sweeter, you know, losing so many tournaments and one now going my way,” said Els, who snapped an 0-for-47 streak in PGA Tour events, dating to the 2004 American Express Championship in Ireland.

Els and Calcavecchia were tied for the lead as the sun began setting on PGA National. Calcavecchia hit into a greenside bunker at the par-3 15th and his shot from the sand looked fine when it hit the green.


 

Somehow, it never stopped rolling.

The ball came to rest on a rock ledge across the green. Calcavecchia walked over, tossed the ball into the water and made a double bogey to give Els the outright lead.

“It just didn’t grab and just kept rolling and rolling and rolling,” said Calcavecchia, a two-time Honda winner. “And that was it.”

Els made a cool par on the par-5 finishing hole, then waited to see if anyone would match his score. Donald made a 35-foot birdie at the 16th to get within one, but got no closer, although his birdie chip on the last hole stopped just shy of the cup.

With that, Els stopping hitting balls and slipped on his watch, basking in a winning feeling again.

“To win over here, it’s been really my goal,” Els said. “So it’s a great feeling.”

Els got US$990,000 for his 16th career PGA Tour victory, along with the huge shot of confidence that he’s sought for so long. Plus, he’ll jump a spot to third in the world rankings, passing Steve Stricker.

No, this isn’t enough for him to catch Tiger Woods.

But he’s at least a step closer in his three-year plan to challenge the world’s No. 1 player.

“That’s as good as I probably could have played in the final round,” Els said. “So it was very satisfying.”

Calcavecchia (73), Robert Allenby (70) and Matt Jones (73) tied for fourth, three shots back. Brian Davis, who was at 10 under earlier in the week and led at the midway mark, shot his second straight 73 and finished in a five-way tie for seventh, four shots off the winning score.

“Didn’t go my way,” Calcavecchia said. “Wasn’t my time.”

Els wasted a four-shot, final-round lead in a European tour event in Dubai earlier this year, when Woods roared past him for a victory. Els made a colossal mistake on the 18th hole that day, splashing his approach into the water after trying to pull off a spectacular finish.

At Hilton Head last year, he was denied when Boo Weekley chipped in twice in the final holes. And last year in his native South Africa, Els made a triple-bogey 8 on the finishing hole to blow what seemed like another cinch victory.

But this time, a smooth, steady finish – a Big Easy finish, if you will – got it done.

“I think he’s one of the best golfers I’ve ever played with,” Donald said. “It’s surprising that he hasn’t won for so many years on this tour. You know, maybe this win will open up the floodgates a little bit.”

There were 14 changes atop the leader board Sunday, and the winning score couldn’t have been much of a surprise; Mark Wilson won a four-man playoff at PGA National last year after finishing four rounds at 5 under, and this year’s Honda provided a similar cluster.

Even after a quadruple bogey Friday, Donald wound up as the last contender standing.

“I take absolute positives from this week,” said Donald, the 2006 Honda winner who was third this year at the Northern Trust Open. “It’s not a disappointing week by any means.”

Mark Calcavecchia never recovered from 15, and Jones hit his tee ball into the water at the par-3 17th to end whatever chance the rookie had of snaring his first tour win.

Els was alone on the lead and the only player to have a bogey-free round, until he got to the 17th, the end of the famed “Bear Trap” at PGA National. He knocked his tee shot into a bunker, and his shot from there ran nearly 10 feet past the cup. The par putt missed, moving Calcavecchia and Jones both back into a share of the lead at 6 under.

They couldn’t stay there, and Els did.

Jones was tied for the lead entering the final round once last year on the Nationwide Tour. But the South Georgia Classic, this is not.

Still, the Australian hardly embarrassed himself. His finish at PGA National was the fifth top-30 in six starts, and the $227,333 check from the Honda vaulted him to 38th on the money list.

“I can take from the week that I can compete with guys out here, which is good,” Jones said.

Oddly enough, Els left the Honda thinking the same thing.

“You know, this has been a really wonderful week,” Els said.

Notes: Els’ last win on U.S. soil was the Memorial in June 2004. .. Weekley, who missed a 3-footer on the final hole of regulation play last year to cost himself the Honda title, shot an 80 Sunday and finished 12 over. He did, however, finish with a putt from nearly the same spot where he missed last year, and thrust his arms in the air in mock celebration. .. South Korea’s Y.E. Yang, best known for beating Woods to win the 2006 HSBC Championship, played his final round in 1 hour, 53 minutes and shot a 71. He must have run all the way to do 18 holes in that time.

I have a hard time doing 9 holes in that time but I am  a few years older 🙂

Without Tiger others have a chance to win

Luke Donald made a quadruple bogey earlier this week. Mark Calcavecchia whiffed on a chip Saturday.

Bad mistakes? Absolutely.

But to win at PGA National, one must overcome blunders, which Donald and Calcavecchia have done with ease.

Donald shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday, Calcavecchia finished with 67, and the two former Honda Classic champions wound up tied withMatt Jones (71) atop the leaderboard at PGA National. All three were at 6 under, one shot better than Brian Davis (73) and Jose Coceres (68), who lost a four-way playoff at PGA National a year ago.

“There’s a lot of danger out there,” Donald said. “There’s some very daunting shots, a lot of scary shots with a lot of water around. So you have to really stand up there and hit good, solid shots.”


 

He’s hit plenty of those.

A bogey-free 64 on Thursday started him on his way, but the quadruple – an 8 on the 14th hole Friday – knocked him well off the pace. He has been flawless from there, with five birdies and no bogeys in the 22 holes since.

“Obviously, other than that, I’ve played very solid this week,” said Donald, who won the 2006 Honda at Mirasol.

Calcavecchia’s game has been just as good.

He made a bogey on the second hole Saturday when his drive nestled against a palm tree, and he decided to take a left-handed whack to advance the ball a few yards. But he missed everything, and eventually made what had to be described as a good bogey.

It was his only mistake.

The two-time Honda winner (1987, 1998) birdied the next two holes, connected again at the par-4 12th, and made nothing but pars the rest of the day.

“It’d be pretty special to win a tour event three miles from your driveway,” said Calcavecchia, who’ll defend his title next week at the PODS Championship and who splits his time between homes in South Florida and Arizona. “I’ve done it in Phoenix, winning three different decades. So that’d be pretty neat too. I’m sure I’ll be nervous tomorrow.”

Chances are, so will Jones.

The tour rookie is 6-for-6 in cuts this season, with four finishes in the top 30 so far. The Nationwide Tour graduate has never had a chance like this, but showed he might be ready for the big time by making birdie on his final hole Saturday to pull into the three-way tie.

Those three are hardly the only ones with an opportunity Sunday.

Ben Crane (71), Dudley Hart (72) and Cliff Kresge (66) were two shots back, Ernie Els and Robert Allenby were in a group of five players sitting three shots off the lead, and in all, a whopping 25 players were within five strokes of first place.

Among those five shots back: Arron Oberholser, bad shoulder and all.

Oberholser, who will head to Minnesota for further examination of his long-injured shoulder after the final round, shot Saturday’s low round, a 65. He could have matched Donald’s low round of the tournament, but missed a 2 1/2-foot birdie try after his approach hit the pin on the final hole.

“A 65, for the way I feel, feels like a 60,” said Oberholser, who has tried for months to get the shoulder problem correctly diagnosed and doesn’t plan to play again until the CA Championship at Doral. “I feel like about half of what I normally am right now.”

honda classic at Palm Beach Gardens Fla.

Dudley Hart spent some of Friday afternoon poised to turn The Honda Classic into a runaway. Later in the day, it was Brian Davis’ turn to take what seemed like a huge lead.

But PGA National eventually caught up with them.

And by nightfall, the Honda leaderboard was muddled again.

Davis shot a 3-under 67 to finish the day at 8 under, one shot better than Matt Jones (67) and two shots ahead of Hart – a former South Florida resident whose last victory was at the 2000 Honda, and who peeled off six straight birdies in a 66.

“Around this course, I think you’d need about a 20-shot lead with one round to go,” Davis said. “You know around here, it’s going to come down to the last nine holes, just the way the course is set up. I can’t see anybody getting a six-shot lead out there tomorrow.”


 

He almost had one Friday.

After a bogey-free opening round, Davis started his second round just as precisely, getting to 10 under at one point and four shots clear of the field.

Then this diabolical course – as it typically does – began to fight back.

Davis made a double bogey at the par-3 seventh, his 16th of the day, then missed the green to the right and slid a 10-foot par try just past the cup on his final hole.

“I’m sure every player’s got a few hiccups around here,” Davis said.

Some fewer than others, though.

John Mallinger (67) and Ben Crane (66) were tied for fourth, three shots off the lead. Ernie Els shot a 70 and was in a group of six players, including Mark Calcavecchia and Robert Allenby, five shots back of Davis.

First-round leader Luke Donald shot a 74, including a quadruple bogey on the 14th, to fall six shots back.

Mike Weir of Bright’s Grove, Ont., fired a second-round 73 to miss the cut by two shots. Jon Mills of Oshawa, Ont., also went home early following a 77.

Hart played in the afternoon, when the wind picked up and the course, theoretically, was significantly harder than in the morning session. But he went out in 29, and only a double bogey at the par-3 17th kept him from finishing the day with a share of the lead.

“You don’t birdie six in a row very often,” Hart said. “You know, everybody out here has gone through stretches where they have done that. It’s just hard to describe, really. Just things are clicking right, and the putts are falling, and good things are happening.”

Most players at PGA National didn’t have the same sentiment.

Defending champion Mark Wilson shot his second straight 73 and missed the cut, along with other notables Weir, Chris DiMarco. Rich Beem and Fred Funk. Tadd Fujikawa, the 17-year-old from Honolulu, still hasn’t made the cut as a pro after missing by 10 shots, and David Duval missed by six.

The cut was 4-over 144, and 77 players made it – meaning the tour’s new “second cut” policy won’t come into play after Saturday’s round. If more than 78 advanced Friday, the tour would have trimmed again to the low 70 and ties following the third round, under an amended plan newly installed this week.

Duval, like Hart, has a major medical exemption this year because of health problems endured by his wife in 2007. Hart – whose wife fell seriously ill last year but is now healthy – is only about US$150,000 shy of what he needed to make this year, yet says he isn’t spending much time thinking about it.

“I came out this year and I just said, you know, I’m going to try to work hard, play well and if I make the money and do it, then great,” said Hart, who made more than $300,000 with a third-place finish at Pebble Beach. “But if I don’t, it’s not going to kill me. I have three kids, a healthy wife at home and a lot of good things going on there.”

Duval hasn’t bounced back so well.

He was over par on eight of his 18 holes Friday, including three double bogeys. Duval hasn’t earned a penny this year in five starts, meaning he has 15 chances left to make the $713,235 he needs to reach what would have been 125th on last year’s money list.

Davis is on pace to make that, and plenty more, this weekend.

With seven first-time champions in the past 12 years, the Honda – which pays $990,000 to the winner – is a haven for those seeking a breakthrough victory, a fact not lost on Davis.

He’s 0-for-98 on tour. He’s never had such a good chance to change that, either.

“It’s a welcome return to form,” Davis said. “And it’s where you want to be.”

Notes: Scott Hoch, who entered the Honda after two straight wins on the Champions Tour, made the cut on the number. .. Tim Petrovic withdrew because of a neck injury after completing eight holes, the last two resulting in double bogeys. .. Carl Petterson holed a 30-yarder for eagle at the par-5 third hole, highlighting his round of 66 that got him within six shots of the lead. .. Tag Ridings, who didn’t have a bogey in his first 22 holes, finished with seven Friday – but still squeaked into the weekend on the cut line.

The Honda Classic leader after the first round is Luke Donald with a bogey free 64

Luke Donald’s opening round in The Honda Classic was far from perfect. He missed five greens and seven fairways, including five straight on the back nine.

And conditions at windy, cool PGA National were hardly optimal for scoring.

Yet somehow, Donald found a way to post the Honda’s best score in three years.

A bogey-free 64 Thursday gave Donald a one-shot lead over Brian Davis and a two-shot edge on Matt Jones after the first round of the Honda – an event Donald won two years ago when it was at nearby Mirasol, a considerably easier track.

“I did a lot of good things around the greens and when I had my chances I took them,” Donald said. “I didn’t drive it particularly well. I need to improve that. I probably hit only half the fairways, which is not quite good enough. Apart from that, everything was very good.”


 

Donald posted the lowest round at a Honda since Padraig Harrington shot a final-round 63 to win in 2005 at Mirasol, and the 64 was the best in 571 tournament rounds since the event moved to PGA National – where Mark Wilson’s winning score a year ago was 5 under. Wilson shot a 73 on Thursday.

“Golf is just a tough game sometimes,” Donald said. “It sometimes gets you down, and we’ve all been there before, but luckily right now I feel pretty confident about my game. I feel confident about where I’m heading, and I’m definitely going the right direction.”

He wasn’t alone in feeling that way.

Matt Jones (66) was alone in third, two shots off the pace, with a slew of others – including Ernie Els, the world’s No. 4 player – three shots back. Els was one of only 10 players to make birdie at the arduous, 508-yard, par-4 10th, which was his first hole of the day.

“This is really my first full event, so to speak, of the year over here, so I needed to get off to a good start,” said Els, whose PGA Tour campaign for 2008 began with a first-round exit last week in the Accenture Match Play. “I was a little nervy this morning to force myself to get off to a good start, and I’ve had that now, so I can start building on that.”

Jose Coceres, who lost to Wilson in a four-man playoff last year, and Jesper Parnevik were in a group within four shots of Donald at 68.

“You’ve almost got to have a major mentality here,” Parnevik said.

He already overcame a major problem here this week.

Parnevik fell ill playing in Mexico last weekend; a dirty drinking glass, he said, was the culprit that left him unable to eat any solid food since Saturday and took 11 pounds off his already-slim frame.

His preparation on Wednesday consisted primarily of getting intravenous fluids in the tour’s medical trailer. But even with a 6:50 a.m. tee time, Parnevik – who, like Donald and a bunch of other South Florida residents, only lives a few minutes from the course – battled his way to a 68.

“Everybody that lives here knows that this can happen,” Parnevik said. “But how it goes from almost 90 (32 C) to 43 (6 C) here in a couple days is hard for a lot of people to understand.”

Much like the Florida temperatures the last few days, Jimmy Walker’s game went from hot to cold in a real hurry.

Walker was ninth alternate at the start of the week and only got in the field because another alternate – Michael Sim, who replaced Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger – withdrew.

For a while, Walker took full advantage of the chance. He was within one stroke of Donald as he went to the par-4 15th, but double-bogey there derailed his run at the lead and he finished with a 67.

Mike Weir of Bright’s Grive, Ont., and Jon Mills of Oshawa, Ont. each finished 3-over 73.

Donald gets introduced as a former Honda champion, but he doesn’t really feel like one, since being at a different venue gives the tournament a decidedly different feel. After winning in ’06 at Mirasol, Donald’s debut at the Honda’s new home last year was forgettable – a first-round 77 doomed his repeat chances.

This time, he’s back in the ideal position.

“If you get a strong wind, constant wind, it’s still not an easy golf course,” Donald said. “Anything under par is a good score.”

Divots: Tadd Fujikawa hasn’t made a cut since turning pro last summer, and that streak looks safe. The 17-year-old from Honolulu shot 78. ..Joe Ogilvie (80) made a quadruple-bogey and triple-bogey within a five-hole span, but still beat Kevin Stadler by a shot. .. Chris DiMarco (75) took a quadruple-bogey on the par-3 15th after hitting two tee balls in the water. .. Tommy Armour III withdrew after nine holes, citing illness and elbow pain. He made two bogeys and two double-bogeys before departing.

Can Tiger Woods win all the tournaments that he is entered in?

He won every major championship he played in 1953, and every official tournament he entered except for the Seminole Pro-Am Invitational, where he tied for second. Then again, Hogan only played six times that year because of battered legs from a bus accident.

Tiger Woods will play no more than 17 events on the PGA Tour this year, so a 2-0 start might be a little early for anyone to get excited.

Even so, expectations were as high as the desert sun at noon when Woods left Arizona with yet another victory. It was his fourth in a row on tour since early September, all done in record fashion.

He set a 72-hole scoring record at Cog Hill outside Chicago and won by eight shots at the Tour Championship and the Buick Invitational, both record margins. On Sunday, he smoked Stewart Cink 8 and 7 in the Accenture Match Play Championship, the biggest blowout in the final in 10 years of a tournament that Woods considers the toughest to win this side of a major.

“I think this certainly is the best stretch I’ve ever played,” Woods said.

Strong words – downright scary – considering that Woods won nine times, including three straight majors, in 2000 and that he won six consecutive PGA Tour events at the end of 2006, a streak that reached seven until losing in the Match Play the following year.

Woods, who also won in Dubai earlier this month, has never before started a season with three straight victories, and it is hard not to speculate how long he can keep winning given his history at some of the tournaments coming up.

Next is the Arnold Palmer Invitational March 13-16 at Bay Hill, where Woods won four straight times from 2000 to 2003. The week after that is the CA Championship at Doral, where he has won the last three years.

Then the Masters April 10-13.

“He just morphs his game into the courses,” Cink said. “So I don’t think there’s a course that’s going to present him with a real obstacle as far as him not being a favourite.”

Woods did little to squash the notion of a perfect season when someone asked him if winning them all was within reason.

“That’s my intent. That’s why you play,” Woods said after collecting his 63rd career tour victory and his 15th title in the World Golf Championships. “If you don’t believe you can win an event, don’t show up.”

But it also is his intent to make every putt and hit every shot just how he wants. No one does that, of course. No one wins every tournament. Byron Nelson holds the record with 11 straight victories during a year in which he won 18 times in 30 events. That means he lost 12 times that year.

A perfect season in golf?

“I do find that laughable,” Hal Sutton said Monday. “Anybody who knows golf knows that ain’t going to happen. You can only own this game for a certain period of time. Even if your name is Tiger Woods, you don’t own it forever.”

Sutton was among those who beat Woods during a time when the world’s No. 1 player looked unbeatable, going head-to-head with him at The Players Championship in 2000 and winning by one shot.

He watched part of the championship match Sunday “until I got bored.”

“Tiger is definitely more dominating,” Sutton said.

Curtis Strange is among those who played in the prime years of Woods and Jack Nicklaus, and he said it is pointless to compare generations. But he also found speculation of a perfect season to be “a little over the top.”

“He is by far and away the best player,” Strange said. “We’ve never had a player this much better than the second-best player. He’s unbelievable, really. But he’s not unbeatable. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves just because he beat Stewart Cink 8 and 7.”

As usual, the best comparisons are to Woods himself.

Most consider his best golf to be from late 1999 through the 2001 Masters, when he won 16 of 32 times on the PGA Tour and four consecutive majors. Dating to the 2006 British Open, Woods has won 15 of his last 24 events, a 63 per cent clip.

“He just has this strong sense of belief in himself that he’s just never out of it,” Cink said. “He’s never going to mess up. He’s just always in control. He never loses his composure.”

The more he talked, the more Cink made Woods out to be a machine.

“I think maybe we ought to slice him open to see what’s inside there,” Cink said. “Maybe nuts and bolts.”

Not many thought Woods could ever produce better results than 2000, the benchmark of greatness in his era. Woods, however, has been saying all along that his plan was to get better. And with each victory, what seemed impossible is not unthinkable.

Woods knows he was fortunate to win the Match Play. In the first round, he rallied from three down with five holes to play against J.B. Holmes by winning four straight holes with three birdies and a 35-foot eagle. In the third round, Aaron Baddeley twice stood over putts inside 12 feet to win the match before Woods prevailed on the 20th hole.

“I played 117 holes this week,” Woods said. “I could have easily played 16 and then been home. That’s the fickleness of match play.”

And such is the fickle nature of golf.

Odds are, Woods won’t win them all.

But if he were to even win three of his next six on the PGA Tour, that would give him 18 wins in his last 30 starts, essentially matching Nelson’s golden year in 1945.

And even that might not be enough to satisfy him.

“You can always get better,” Woods said. “You can always keep improving.”

Tiger, like the pink bunny, just keeps on winning

Stewart Cink barely put up a fight Sunday in the Accenture Match Play Championship, where Woods broke a scoring record for the fourth straight tournament, collected his fifth straight victory worldwide and didn’t so much as crack a smile when someone asked him if a perfect season was within reach.

“That’s my intent,” he said. “That’s why you play. It you don’t believe you can win an event, don’t show up.”

Relentless as ever, Woods made 14 birdies in 29 holes in the high desert of Dove Mountain to overwhelm Stewart Cink for an 8-and-7 victory, the largest margin in the final match in the 10-year history of this fickle event.


 

Woods captured his 15th World Golf Championship, holding all three world titles for the first time.

And his 63rd career victory moved him past Arnold Palmer and into fourth place alone on the PGA Tour’s career list. His next victory will tie him with Ben Hogan.

Golf is not a fair fight at the moment.

“I think maybe we ought to slice him open to see what’s inside,” Cink said. “Maybe nuts and bolts.”

Cink was only the latest victim in a winning streak that dates to Sept. 3, 2007, a date worth remembering.

Woods won the BMW Championship the following week at 262, breaking the tournament scoring record by five shots. He won the Tour Championship by a record eight shots, and the Buick Invitational by the same margin, another tournament record.

This is the third time Woods has won at least four straight PGA Tour events. He also won in Dubai three weeks ago on the European tour by coming back from a four-shot deficit.

“I think this is the best stretch I’ve ever played,” Woods said.

He has won six of his last seven PGA Tour events, 16 of his last 30 over the last two years.

The confidence in his game is so high that Woods started this season by saying the Grand Slam was “easily within reason.” For now, he has a Triple Crown of the World Golf Championships, a sweep that included an eight-shot victory in the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone and a two-shot victory in the CA Championship at Doral.

Woods’ tour winning streak was at seven last year when Nick O’Hern beat him in the third round of the Match Play. Given the fickle nature of this format, even Woods said it was the toughest tournament to win this side of a major.

Turns out the hard part was just getting to the final match.

Woods rallied from three down with five holes to play in the opening round against J.B. Holmes by winning four straight holes with three birdies and a 35-foot eagle. He twice watched Aaron Baddeley putt from inside 12 feet to win a third-round match, beating the Australian in 20 holes. And he was stretched to 18 holes in the semifinal against defending champion Henrik Stenson.

“I played 117 holes this week,” Woods said. “I could have easily played 16 and then been home. That’s the fickleness of match play.”

But the final was no contest.

He built a 4-up lead after the morning round of 66, and Cink never got any closer.

Cink didn’t win a hole until No. 12, and the only hole he won in the afternoon came at the par-5 10th when he rolled in a 36-foot eagle putt. Woods had an eagle putt from 35 feet, and the ball spun around the cup.

“Even the minuscule amount that I upstaged him there – him being 8 up – I still thought he was going to make it,” Cink said. “He lipped it out, and I thought, ‘Hey, come on. At least give me a moment to shine here.’ And he said, ‘Sorry, dude.”‘

The next stop for Woods is the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

“Anytime you’re associated with Arnold and what he’s done with the game of golf, it’s always a positive thing,” Woods said about going 1-up in career victories over the King. “I could never have foreseen my victory total being this high, my game improvement being as much as it has been, my knowledge of the game.”

Woods’ record in the WGCs is simply ridiculous. This is the 10th year of this series, which was designed to bring together the best players in the world. Identifying the best? That was never a serious question.

Woods is a staggering 15-of-26 in official WGC events, three of those in the Match Play Championship. Darren Clarke (Match Play, Bridgestone) is the only other player with multiple WGC victories.

The world’s No. 1 player has built a career on these events alone:

-Woods earned US$1.35 million Sunday, giving him over $19.8 million in these elite events. That’s roughly 25 per cent of Woods’ career PGA Tour earnings, and more thanTom Lehman has earned in more than 430 tour starts.

-He was won 15 times in WGC events, as many victories as Fred Couples has in his entire PGA Tour career.

“It says about the same thing that just about any other stat you can pull up of him says,” Cink said. “It says he’s the best that’s ever played.”

Stenson won the first four holes and defeated Justin Leonard in the consolation match, 3 and 2. Leonard should earn enough world ranking points to move into the top 40, boosting his chances of getting into the Masters.

Cink earned $800,000 and will look back on a week in which he beat British Open champion Padraig Harrington and U.S. Open champion Angel Cabrera before running out of magic against the reigning PGA champion.

“I’m a little disappointed I didn’t throw a little more at Tiger, put some pressure on him,” Cink said.

Woods already was 4 up after eight holes in the morning when he mentioned that a rules official had just warned them that they were close to being put on the clock for slow play.

“Who are we holding up?” Woods whispered with a bemused grin, noting they were the only match on the course.

Truth is, he might as well have been playing alone.