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Tiger tops Nicklaus with 74th tour win

BETHESDA, Md. – The flight of his shot into the 18th green was so pure that Tiger Woods immediately started walking and twirled his club, knowing that it effectively wrapped up another win at the AT&T National.

Making it even more special was the sound of thousands of fans at Congressional to see it.

One day after spectators were kept away from the golf course because of debris from a violent wind storm, they returned Sunday in full force and got what they expected – Woods in his red shirt, outlasting Bo Van Pelt in a back-nine duel, and posing with another trophy.

“Yesterday was a silent day,” Woods said. “I think everyone saved up for today. What an atmosphere to play in front of.”

Woods closed with a 2-under-par 69 – at one point going 41 holes without a bogey on a Congressional course that was tougher than when it hosted the U.S. Open last year – and won for the third time this year. It was the 74th win of his career, moving him past Jack Nicklaus into second place on the PGA Tour, eight short of Sam Snead’s record.

Not bad for a guy who only five months ago walked off the course at Doral with another injury to his left Achilles tendon.

“I remember there was a time when people were saying I could never win again,” Woods said. “That was, what? Six months ago? Here we are.”

He stayed at No. 4 in the world, but a couple of other rankings indicate how he is trending. Woods moved to the top of the PGA Tour money list and the FedEx Cup standings for the first time since September 2009.

And this win puts him in a position to reclaim the No. 1 ranking over the final two majors of the year. The ranking is based on points over two years. If it were a vote, Van Pelt knows how he would cast his ballot.

“I think he’s the only guy to win three tournaments on tour this year, is that correct?” he said. “On three different golf courses. And he was leading the U.S. Open after two days. So I’d say that he’s playing the best golf in the world right now.”

Van Pelt made him work for it. Three times, Woods took the outright lead in the final round. Each time, Van Pelt made a birdie to catch him. The tournament was decided on the last three holes, and it featured a surprising turn of events.

Van Pelt had Woods on the ropes on the par-5 16th by ripping a 345-yard tee shot and having only a 6-iron into the green. Woods hit a spectator in the left rough with his tee shot, laid up, and then attacked a back flag only to see the ball tumble over the green and down an 8-foot slope. It looked as if it might be a two-shot swing for Van Pelt, or at least the lead going to the 17th.

That’s when Van Pelt answered with unforced errors of his own. His 6-iron didn’t quite reach the bunker, meaning he had to plant his feet in the sand and grip the wedge on the shaft for his third shot. He moved it only a few yards, still in the collar of the rough, and then chipped about 12 feet by the hole. Woods’ chip up the slope rolled 15 feet by, and he missed the par putt.

Van Pelt also missed his par putt, and they walked away still tied for the lead.

“It was difficult from the standpoint that I had my legs in the bunker, and if I hit that chip a little too hard it goes over the green because you can’t put any spin on it,” Van Pelt said. “And the second one, I thought I hit great. I was surprised it rolled that far. And the putt, I mean, I’ve probably never hit a better putt than that in my life under those kind of circumstances.

“I pretty much hit every shot the way I wanted to that hole, just ended up being 6.”

On the 17th, Van Pelt caught a flier from the first cut of rough and the ball shot over the green and near the grandstand, leaving him an impossible chip. He hit through the green and had to scramble to make bogey, and Woods took the outright lead for the third time all day – this time for good.

Brendon de Jonge of Zimbabwe, who entered the day with a one-shot lead, didn’t make birdie and closed with a 77.

Former UNLV standout Adam Scott went out in 31 and was briefly tied for the lead until a few bogeys on the back nine. He had to settle for a 67, which put him alone in third at 5 under.

Billy Hurley, the Annapolis graduate who spent five years in the Navy, closed with a 72 and tied for fourth.

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