Friday, 19 March 2010
Tiger Woods, who has set new records virtually since the day he turned professional in 1996, established a few more at Firestone Country Club, Akron, Ohio, as he claimed the World Golf Championships-NEC Invitational by one stroke from fellow American Phil Mickelson.

In a gripping climax to the $5 million (euro 4,328,736, £3,091,954) tournament, both Woods and Mickelson bogeyed the final hole, leaving Woods the champion with a final round of 71 for a ten under par aggregate of 270.

In the process, the 23 year old becomes the first player to surpass $4 million in earnings in one season – his fifth victory of 1999 taking his total to $4,266,585 and elevating him to the top of the US money list.

At 23 years, eight months and 30 days, Woods is also the youngest player to win five times in a single season since Jack Nicklaus won his fifth title in 1963 – remarkably at the same age to the exact day.

Europe’s outstanding performance came from the man who chased Woods home at Medinah earlier this month, Sergio Garcia. The teenage Spaniard had threatened to finish third or perhaps higher until he ran up a quadruple bogey nine at the 16th hole.

That left Garcia cursing his luck, but he still managed to finish tied for seventh on 278, two under par, after a closing 72. Ireland’s Padraig Harrington also performed with great distinction on his professional debut in America, claiming a share of 12th place.

Despite his disappointment, Garcia was still able to flash that famous boyish smile and say: “Sometimes these things happen. I’ll hopefully be back next year and try to win the tournament. Now more than before I want to win it.”

Mickelson, who began the final day seven strokes behind, fired a five under par 65 and briefly drew level with the new US PGA champion. However Mickelson bogeyed the 18th and Woods – who had dropped shots at the 14th and 15th – made a crucial birdie at the 17th to re-establish a two shot advantage playing the last.

Woods, having missed the fairway, hit a weak wedge to the green but two putted from 45 feet for the bogey and the $1 million (865,746 euro, £618,390) first prize.

He said: “Phil played a wonderful round of golf but I made a crucial putt on the 17th which allowed me to play the 18th more conservatively. Even since my amateur days I’ve made some pretty good putts on the 17th when I needed them.

Of the other Europeans in the field Padraig Harrington, who qualified for the Ryder Cup team in tenth place the previous Sunday, finished strongly with a 71 for a level par total of 280 over a demanding, superbly manicured course.

Paul Lawrie, the Open champion, opened with a 67 and 68 to share the lead with Carlos Franco after 36 holes. He slipped back with two 74s but acquitted himself well and earned the respect of the American golfing public.

Miguel Angel Jiménez finished alongside Jesper Parnevik, tied for 27th on 286, one ahead of Jarmo Sandelin and Colin Montgomerie. Lee Westwood was tied with Andrew Coltart on 288, Darren Clarke and Jean Van de Velde finished on 289 and Masters champion José Maria Olazábal on 292.

Open champion Lawrie and Garcia led the European challenge in the storm-delayed first round. Lawrie and Garcia both fired superb three under par 67s in overcast, humid conditions. That left them just one behind first round leader Woods, who led with a four under par 66.

It was Lawrie’s lowest round in the United States and underlined his new-found status as a leading player. The Scot finished three ahead of US Open champion Payne Stewart, thanks mainly to a run of three successive birdies from the ninth.

After sharing the halfway lead with Franco, he said: “I know that if I play well I’m going to have a chance of winning, wherever I play. When things don’t go well, I know I have enough good shots in me to pull things around.

“It’s great fun to play against these guys and to play well against them. Everything has happened pretty fast for me but I’ve been practicing a long time for these things to happen. Now they are coming along I feel comfortable with my position.”

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