Tiger Woods did it again. He won for the 74th time, this time his own tournament, the AT&T National at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland. With this win, he finally passed the great Jack Nicklaus for career wins and there’s no longer anyone between him and the recordholder, Sam Snead, who had 82.
He and Bo Van Pelt started out one stroke behind 54-hole leader, Brendon de Jonge, who succumbed to the circus atmosphere that surrounds any Tiger Woods round: the sheer size of the gallery, their bolting for the next hole as soon as Tiger putts out, the camera phone photos they’re not supposed to be taking and the fact that most of them are cheering for Tiger and not for you. de Jonge faded to T11 by shooting 6-over par and at one point sidled over to on-course commentator, Peter Kostis, and expressed his amazement that Woods has to deal with this on every round.
There was one early threat to Woods by Adam Scott who started way back and, with the freedom that engenders, managed to get to 5-under on the day by his eighth hole. But his charge flattened out with pars over the next five holes and then ran into two consecutive bogeys at 14 and 15 that knocked him out of it.
There was another Cinderella challenger in former Navy Lieutenant, Billy Hurley III. He bogeyed the 4th to fall back to 4-under, but then made two long putts for birdie at 7 and 9 to get to 6-under. He was briefly within a stroke of Tiger before bogeying 10. With his relative inexperience at this level, he wasn’t much of a threat, but if nothing else, the Navy builds spine and you just never know.
What was fabulous for Hurley was that he held it together, finished T4 and earned $256,000. That will go a long way towards bolstering his efforts to keep his card for 2013. Until Sunday, he had only earned a mere $85,000 serving his first-year apprenticeship.
But the only real challenger to Woods on the day turned out to be Bo Van Pelt. He gained a stroke on Woods on the 3rd, but gave it right back on the 4th. Tiger got him by one on the 5th, but Bo came right back with his own birdie on the 6th. Tiger birdied 9, but Van Pelt got back even with his own on 11. And then another on 15 to match Tiger’s. And then they both made bogeys on the par-5 16th.
The whole thing really was that tight all the way through 16…and then Van Pelt bogeyed 17 and 18 while Tiger pared in.
The thing about Tiger’s performance was that parts of it were back to his otherworldly shots that leaves everyone shaking their heads. The blimp shot showed that he outdrove Bo by 40 or 50 yards on 18 [ShotLink wasn’t working at this writing] with what appeared to be the only hard swing he made off the tee. He gouged one approach shot out of a bad lie in deep rough somehow and managed to run it up and onto the green. Peter Kostis didn’t see that happening as he surveyed the shot. He also had another punch-out where his follow through slid up a big tree trunk. He got the ball on the green on that one too:
Yeah, I had 165 front, and that was all I was concentrated on. I had to start that ball probably about 20 yards right of the right bunker, wind was coming off my left. I had warned the gallery that, be careful, this club might snap, because obviously I’m hooking it, so I’ve got to throw it, I’ve got to put some speed into it, and I can’t — I’m not 100 percent sure I can stop it before I hit the tree. I didn’t think I could.
I hit [the shot]. It came off great, and somehow the 9‑iron didn’t bend. I’m kind of surprised it didn’t. I hit the shot, I tried to slow it down before I hit the tree. Still hit the tree, but I didn’t hit it with the full force.
The super slow motion replay showed the shaft bending up as it slid up the tree while he was trying to stop it.
The cacophony will begin again over whether Woods is “back” or not. But with three impressive wins in his last seven tournaments — Bay Hill, Memorial and now this one — it would be hard to argue otherwise:
Well, a lot of media people didn’t think I could win again, and I had to deal with those questions for quite a bit. It was just a matter of time. I could see the pieces coming together. Sean and I were working, and we see what’s coming, and we can see the consistency, and it’s just a matter of time. Just stay the course, and if you look at my ball‑striking so far this year, it’s gotten more and more consistent.
That’s just — I had basically a year away from it because I was hurt. I couldn’t practice. And changing systems. Give me a little bit of time, and I feel like this is what I can do.
He’ll get another nice proving ground this coming week at the Greenbriar Classic in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. And then it’s a week of prep work for the British Open:
Well, it’s going to be totally different shot making and prep. I’m going to play next week, and then I’m going to have to start practicing some different shots and getting used to hitting the ball a little bit lower, a little bit more flighted. It’s a totally different game playing links golf. But I still have to have the ability to get the ball up in the air.
That’s something that we’re going to work on. I’ve got a week — basically two weeks, but one week of prep prior to the Open, and we’ll get after it.
The thing to watch for in the British Open is how much this lower flighting of the ball for the Open will impact what he’s built his swing into. With the rhythm and length of the swing potentially being changed, will he still have the kind of command that he demonstrated on Sunday? That, of course, is why we watch.
That and the fact that the British odds makers moved him from 10 to 1 to win the Open to 5 to 1.