A colossal battle between the biggest personalities in golf resulted in Tiger Woods defeating John Daly in a sudden-death play-off to win the World Golf Championships – American Express Championship after a thrilling final day which saw Sergio Garcia, Colin Montgomerie and Henrik Stenson tied for third.
Indeed, it was a superb week for The European Tour with seven Members in the top ten as David Howell, Graeme McDowell and Vijay Singh shared sixth place.
For Montgomerie it meant a return to the top of The European Tour Order of Merit as he chases an incredible eighth Harry Vardon Trophy, six years after he won the last of his seven consecutive Order of Merit titles.
“It feels fantastic,” said Montgomerie about returning to the summit of European golf. “I had a goal at the start of the week to try and overtake Michael Campbell and also get some more Ryder Cup points which I achieved. I’ve stolen a huge march on Michael.”
But whilst Montgomerie achieved one goal of reaching the top of the Order of Merit, he came up just shy of a second victory in as many weeks as the putts refused to drop as he carded a level par 70 for an eight under par total of 272, two strokes shy of the play-off.
Instead the day belonged to Woods as he captured his fourth WGC – American Express Championship title in six attempts and his tenth individual WGC victory. Throughout the final day the Harding Park Golf Course reverberated to the roars of the crowd as all the main contenders played some breathtaking golf.
Daly started out as the man to beat after starting the final round one clear of the field and held that lead until he reached the par three 17th, withstanding all the pressure from the chasing pack.
But Daly three putted the par three and suddenly he was tied with Woods in the group ahead. Both players duly made par on the tough 18th, Woods for a three under par 67, and Daly for a 69 to finish locked together at ten under par 270.
They returned to the 18th, hitting two huge drives before both making par and then move onto the 16th. Woods looked to have an advantage when Daly found trouble off the tee but Daly played a remarkable recovery through the trees to 14 feet. Woods made his par from 25 feet before Daly knocked his putt to win three feet past and then agonisingly missed the return.
“I know Tiger didn’t want to win it that way and I certainly didn’t want to lose that way,” said Daly. “It just wasn’t meant to be.”
But for Woods, it was another imperious performance in front of the adoring San Francisco fans. Woods has a strong affinity with the area from his days at Stanford University and didn’t disappoint the home crowd, making his move with three success birdies at the start of the back nine to keep the pressure on Daly.
“It turned out to be a fantastic week,” said Woods. “I didn’t get off to the best of starts but got it going after the turn and that got me back in the tournament. I birdied the 16th but was lucky to get into the play-off.”
Garcia threatened when he holed his second shot on the seventh, holing out from 112 yards but both shots were given straight back when he bogeyed the next two holes. A birdie on the tenth kept him in the hunt but over the back nine he was unable to pull any more shots back and after eight pars signed for a 69 and eight under par total of 272.
“I got it back nicely with the eagle on seven but unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be,” said Garcia, who picked up his fifth top ten in six WGC – American Express Championships. “I felt I hit some good shots on the back nine but it wasn’t happening.”
Stenson also put in an impressive performance, further enhancing his growing reputation on the world stage. The Swede, playing with Woods, birdied two of the last three holes for a round of 68 to also finish at eight under par.
“I’m happy with the performance,” said Stenson. “I fought pretty hard out there. Playing these events brings out the best in me and I am looking forward to doing it in the future.”