Tiger Woods took another step closer to golfing immortality at Bethpage State Park in New York with victory in the 102nd US Open Championship, his eighth Major Championship win and his 44th career victory worldwide.
Following on from his success at Augusta National in the Masters Tournament in April, the World Number One moved halfway towards the Holy Grail of the Grand Slam, next month’s Open Championship at Muirfield and the US PGA Championship at Hazeltine in August now firmly in the American’s sights.
Going into the final round, hopes were understandably high of European Tour success with Sergio Garcia only four shots adrift of Woods and partnering him in the final group, while Padraig Harrington and Nick Faldo were poised too within striking distance.
It was the continuation of a good week for The European Tour contingent which saw 20 of the record 29 Members in action make the cut. However, the leading trio could not produce top form on the final day and, like the rest of the field, had to play second fiddle to the World Number One.
In the end the final round on the treacherously difficult Black Course in Farmingdale resembled the last day at Augusta, Woods not setting the heather on fire scoring-wise but doing enough to triumph as none of the chasing pack succeeded in making up ground.
Woods closed with a 72 for a three under par total of 277 to finish three ahead of World Number Two Phil Mickelson who carded a 70 for 280 while Jeff Maggert’s 72 gave him third place on 282. Garcia took fourth on 283 after his 74 while Nick Faldo shared fifth with Scott Hoch and Billy Mayfair on 285 after his 73. Harrington, who closed with a 75 for 286, shared eighth place with Tom Byrum and Nick Price.
“It was not easy out there, the golf course was playing very difficult,” said Woods. “I didn’t get off to the best of starts but I knew it was going to be a long hard day and I knew I just had to hang in there and it came good for me in the end.
“I would love to win the Slam, of course I would. I’ve done it before (although not in a single calendar year) and I would love to do it again.”
In the early stages, the World Number One gave his challengers hope with uncharacteristic mistakes at the opening two holes, two three putts yielding respective bogey fives. But after that Woods was solidity personified, birdies at the seventh and 13th virtually guaranteeing his victory and even allowing him the luxury of dropped shots at both the 16th and 18th to still win by three.
If Garcia was to make a move he knew he had to capitalise on the American’s early mistakes but a three putt bogey of his own at the third set the tone for the Spaniard who went on to drop shots at the seventh, ninth and 12th to put an end to his challenge.
Two shots adrift of Garcia, Faldo, who had to receive a special invitation from the United States Golf Association to compete in his 60th consecutive Major, ensured that would not be the case next year as he qualified by right thanks to his share of fifth place.
“All in all, I am really chuffed with that,” he said. “The fact I finished in the top five on a course which is not really made for me is great and pays tribute to all the hard work I’ve put in over the past month – I’m really looking forward to Muirfield now.”
Of the other European Tour Members, the performance of the final day came from Australian Peter Lonard who carded an extraordinary 67 for a seven over par total of 287 and 11th place outright.
The 34 year old, who won the ANZ Championship on the Australasian Tour in 2001, reached the turn in three under par 32 but looked to have undone all his good work with a triple bogey seven at the 499 yard 12th, the longest par four in US Open Championship history.
But, far from being despondent, Lonard responded magnificently with three birdies in a row from the 13th and even a dropped shot at the 16th could not stop his momentum, the Australian birdieing the short 17th to be home in 35.
Elsewhere, the finishing scores of the other European Tour Members in action were Thomas Levet (290), Darren Clarke and Ernie Els (291), Paul Lawrie and Vijay Singh (292), Bernhard Langer (293), Thomas Björn and Niclas Fasth (294), Robert Karlsson and Jean Van de Velde (295), José Maria Olazábal (296), Greg Norman (299), Jeev Milkha Singh (300), Angel Cabrera (302), and John Daly and Tom Gillis (304).