Tiger Woods claimed a hat-trick of World Golf Championships-NEC Invitational titles when he beat Jim Furyk at the seventh hole of a thrilling sudden-death play-off at Firestone Country Club.
Woods, the champion in 1999 and 2000, produced a stunning birdie three at the 18th - the seventh hole in extra time - virtually replicating the stroke which secured the crown 12 months ago.
With Furyk short in two after dicing with the trees, Woods struck his approach to within two feet to land the title for an unprecedented third time in succession.
Darren Clarke of Ireland, the only European winner of a World Golf Championships event to date, enjoyed another productive week by finishing third while Colin Montgomerie came a creditable fourth, respectively three and five shots behind the leading pair.
Woods shot a closing 69 to Furyk's 71 for a total of 268, and the play-off produced a remarkable climax to a final day which started early due to a severe weather warning. Fortunately the storms held off long enough for the principals to entertain the galleries to their full repertoire of shotmaking.
Both players had chances to take the title in the first three holes of sudden-death. Furyk bunkered his approach to the 18th and left the ball in the sand after his third shot. Remarkably, he holed his next shot from the bunker for a miraculous par four.
The players moved on to the 17th, where Woods seemed in deep trouble after overshooting the green in two and chipping to 20 feet. Furyk was 15 feet away in two, but Woods rolled the ball in for a par and Furyk missed his attempt to win.
Woods then drove into trees as they moved back down the 18th and had to chip out sideways after Furyk had found the middle of the green. Woods then produced a majestic pitch to three feet
At the fourth extra hole, Furyk knocked his approach to eight feet but missed the birdie attempt to let Woods breathe again.
The fifth hole saw Furyk bunker his second and splash out to two feet to save par, while Woods - behind trees once more - knocked his second onto the fringe and chipped to three feet.
Both players came up short at the sixth and Woods' birdie putt shaved the cup from 70 feet. Furyk also two putted to keep the contest alive.
However Woods' stroke of genius secured the title at the seventh and commented: “It was a war out there because neither one of us was going to give in inch. It was just fun to compete like that when you are tested to the absolute limit.”
Clarke, who added a third place finish in a World Golf Championships event to follow his victory in the Accenture Match Play Championship last year, was satisfied with his position.
“I think third is pretty good considering the way I hit the ball for the first three days. Today was better and I made a lot more chances. Unfortunately a couple of three putts midway through the front nine stopped my momentum.
“I chipped and putted my way round the course on the first three days and I knew I had to shoot low to have a chance of winning. To be honest it always looked as if third was the best I could do and that’s how it worked out.”
Clarke had reached ten under par with birdie putts of 15 and 20 feet at the second and third holes but he bogeyed the fourth, sixth and seventh to drop out of contention, leaving the stage to Furyk and Woods.
He picked up strokes at the tenth from ten feet and the 13th from six feet to ensure his third place finish, while Colin Montgomerie finished in fourth place after a level par 70.
Once again, Montgomerie paid the price for failing to birdie the second hole, a par which which had yielded birdies for the majority of the field all week. This time he bogeyed and could not pick up any momentum.
“I got off to a bad start yet again” he said. “I’ve played that hole in five, five, five and six and I probably lost four shots to the field at that one hole. It was difficult today and I feel that fourth in a field of this quality is pretty good.
“It means a few more Word Ranking points and some more dollars in the bank. Overall my game is good and I am driving it well again so I can’t complain.”
Further down the field, Bernhard Langer shot a 73 for a share of 11th place on 277, three under par. The German bogeyed three of the first six holes to slip back down the leaderboard.
Langer finished one ahead of Ian Poulter, who showed exceptional promise on his first visit to Firestone. The young Englishman closed with a level par 70 which could have been considerably better after he birdied two of the first three holes. However a hat-trick of bogeys from the 12th stopped him in his tracks.
Sweden’s Pierre Fulke also finished with a 70 for 279, the same mark as Pardaig Harrington who ended his week with a round of 72.