Friday, 19 March 2010

He was heroic at Hoylake and magnificent at Medinah but Tiger Woods proved it was not only in the Major Championship arena in 2006 that he excelled. The undisputed World Number One was also fantastic at Firestone Country Club as he successfully defended his World Golf Championships – Bridgestone Invitational title, beating US Ryder Cup team-mate Stewart Cink at the fourth extra hole of a sudden-death play-off to notch his 11th individual victory in a WGC event.

After losing a three stroke lead in the last five holes Woods registered his fourth straight victory - and fifth in eight years at Firestone – holing an eight foot birdie putt which gave him the first prize of €1,014,833 after he and Cink had tied on ten under par 270. It was also Woods' 13th play-off win in 15 attempts.

The best European Tour finish came jointly from Argentina’s Angel Cabrera and England’s Paul Casey who shared fourth place on seven under par 273 with Lucas Glover and Davis Love III after Cabrera stormed home in 65 while Casey finished with a 71.

It could have been much better for Casey though, who led the tournament by one shot with nine holes to play, but the Englishman bogeyed the 11th and 13th while Woods holed birdie putts of ten feet on the tenth, 35 feet at the 12th and then a 22 footer on the following green. Suddenly he was three strokes clear and nobody expected any result other than another Woods win.

But it was a long time in coming. A drive into the trees on the long 16th led to a bogey six and Cink birdied that and the next to draw level. Just as two years ago Cink was trying to lift the title six days after being handed a Ryder Cup wild card. But, five years after Woods needed seven extra holes to defeat Jim Furyk on the course, the 30 year old was not to be denied again. In the end, Woods and Cink finished one shot ahead of Jim Furyk who took sole possession of third.

"I'm very happy with that," said Casey. "First time ever playing in the final group on a Sunday (in America) and with Tiger as well that was an experience. I thought I played okay. I just didn't make anything on the back nine and was a little bit unlucky on the 16th." His pitch to the par five spun back into the water.

The compensation for the Englishman is that his second Ryder Cup cap is secure and there will be no need for sweating at this coming week's BMW International Open in Munich, the final qualifying event.

Not so for Paul McGinley, however. Only 66th of the 78 strong field, he is now in the tenth and last automatic spot again with José Maria Olazábal having climbed up thanks to his 22nd place finish, and the Irishman admitted he expects a "dogfight" in Germany.

For different reasons, though, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter are among those who cannot climb into the top ten now whatever happens in Germany and must now hope for a wild card from Captain Ian Woosnam.

Westwood fell ill during the third round and withdrew from the event at the start of the final day. The former European Number One had to finish in the top six to retain any hope of qualifying automatically for next month's match, but his Saturday 74 had dropped him to 66th place.

He complained of feeling sick and feverish when he came off. A doctor was called, but antibiotics failed to do the trick and after a bad night he announced he was pulling out and flew home.

Poulter, who played the final round dressed in the red and white of his beloved Arsenal, had hopes of not needing a Captain's pick when he climbed to sixth place with three straight birdies at the start of the back nine. But he then three-putted from four feet for a double bogey six at the 13th and bogeyed the next two to see his chance disappear.

Padraig Harrington is not yet totally safe at eighth in the standings, but it looks favourable for the popular Irishman that he will make it. Olazábal’s fate is in the hands of others. He has decided not to play in Munich, saying he needs a rest.

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