Monday, 21 August 2006

Tiger Woods delivered another peerless performance at Medinah Country Club to rack up his 12th Major Championship and move closing to supplanting Jack Nicklaus as the most prolific accumulator of Majors in golfing history. Woods, who started the final round of the 88th US PGA Championship tied with England’s Luke Donald, closed with a 68 for an 18 under par total of 270 and a five stroke victory over Shaun Micheel with Donald, Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott sharing third place.

 

Donald, who had designs on his first Major, was powerless to prevent the World Number One running away with his third US PGA title – and his second at Medinah Country Club – as the American secured back-to-back Majors following his equally fluent success at Royal Liverpool last month.

 

That victory at Hoylake brought Woods level with Walter Hagen on 11 Majors, but his 12th hoisted him in outright second place behind Nicklaus, whose once impregnable haul of 18 in now within range of Woods, who has reached a dozen Majors by the age of 30. Nicklaus was 33 years old when he passed the same landmark. Woods has now won 12 of the 40 Majors he has played as professional. It took Nicklaus 48 to get to the same point.

 

“It wasn’t quite as easy as it may have looked” said Woods, who made only three bogeys in 72 holes. “I had one of these days on the greens where I made putts I really shouldn’t have. I knew if I got the ball on the green then I had a chance of making birdie. I have to say that this win is very sweet.”

 

There were no tears this time as Woods hoisted aloft the bulky Wannamaker Trophy. Memories of his late father, Earl, had opened the floodgates at Hoylake, but this time he was in full control of his emotions over the course where he pipped Garcia for the 1999 title.

 

Seven years on, Garcia’s highlight of a frustrating Sunday came with a marvellous eagle three at the 14th, and the Spaniard was left to rue another solid but ultimately unsuccessful Major challenge with a closing 70 and 12 under par total of 276.

 

Australian Scott, despite bogeys at the 16th and 18th, finished with a 67 to join Garcia and Donald, one behind 2003 Champion Micheel, who posted a last round 69 for outright second on 275.

 

Donald endured one of these days when the luck deserted him. While Woods holed virtually everything he looked at, his English playing partner could not buy a putt, and completed the 18 holes without a solitary birdie to his name. With 16 pars and two bogeys at the fourth and tenth, the fairytale finish was never likely to materialise.

 

He began the day tied with Woods and ended six strokes behind the Championship winner but hopes the experience will make him a better player.

"I really didn't feel like I played badly, and I'll learn from this and be a stronger player after," said the 28 year old  after completing a two over-par round of 74. Donald was plagued by lip-outs on three successive greens from the fourth, two costing him birdies and one spoiling a bid to save par.

"Obviously, I'm very disappointed to have shot 74, considering I played nicely today really. I hit a lot of fairways. Swung the club pretty well. I just didn't hit it quite close enough on the greens, even though I hit a lot of greens today. I really just couldn't get those putts to drop."

Donald, 28, said there were lessons to be learned. "If it was any other Major, a US Open or something a little bit harder, my golf might have been okay," he said. "But the course has been playing reasonably easy for a Major this last week and maybe I needed to be a bit more aggressive today."

Donald, who graduated from nearby Northwestern college and lives 40 minutes from the Medinah course, was cheered by the galleries. "I just needed a few breaks, a few putts to go in and that might have been the difference to keep me going," he said. 

As for Woods, he added: "Tiger has great mental belief in himself. He's obviously got a good game. But he just -- he kind of wills it in the hole. Any time he gets into trouble, he has a great short game. He could have made four or five bogeys out there, but he only made one in the end."

Woods's utter dominance was such that by the back nine his only challenge was to try to achieve the lowest score under par in the history of the Majors - all 399 of them.

A bogey on the short 17th denied him that, but 18 under matched the US PGA record he and fellow American Bob May set six years ago. Just as in 2000, Woods ended up a winner.

This was the 12th time out of 12 that Woods has turned at least a share of top spot entering the final day into victory. And, as at The Open last month, he turned the final afternoon into a golfing masterclass.

Donald had not had a bogey for 36 holes going into their Sunday duel, but that soon changed and he was already out of it when another came at the long tenth.

Garcia and Donald at least did enough to effectively lock up their Ryder Cup berths for The K Club next month, while Ian Poulter's top ten finish keeps his hopes alive with two events to go. The battling Englishman closed with a 71 to share ninth place with US Open Champion Geoff Ogilvy.

Woods, who rolled in a birdie putt at the first to announce his towering presence, turned it into a one-man show like so often before, sinking two putts of over 30 feet as he raced to the turn in 32 to be four clear. The chasm grew to five when he made a ten footer on the 11th despite having driven into the rough. Micheel and Canadian Mike Weir all tried valiantly to close the gap, but to no avail.

Donald had hoped to become the first European to win a Major since 1999 and the first to win this title since Tommy Armour in 1930. But doing it playing with Woods in the final group was never a good situation to be in to try to make it happen.

His bogey-free run ended after he unluckily drove into a divot hole on the fourth and when he missed a three footer at the next there was a sense already that it was just not going to be his day.

US Ryder Cup Captain, Tom Lehman, now knows the ten players who will definitely be in Ireland - including four uncapped players in his side – Brett Wetterich, Vaughn Taylor, JJ Henry and Zach Johnson. He will name his two wild cards on Monday morning.

Meanwhile, a concerned David Howell gave Europe's Ryder Cup camp a worry by revealing that he had come close to pulling out of the event. With less than five weeks to go to the Ryder Cup Howell, who leads the points race, crashed to an horrific 82 after suffering a shoulder problem warming up.

The Swindon golfer, also bothered by his right knee, said: "I felt my shoulder on my last few shots on the range and thought nothing of it. But it soon became a bit of a problem and I thought about withdrawing with five to play. I don't like to blame adversity, but clearly it was affecting me."

The knee soreness came in his third round and Howell, with a long history of injuries in his career, said: "I'm in the wars."

He is due to play in the WGC – Bridgestone Invitational in Ohio this coming week and added: "I'll go and get treatment. I should peg it up at least (in the first round on Thursday) because I need to get in my 15 starts over there."

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