Tiger Woods captured the World Golf Championships – Bridgestone Invitational for an unprecedented sixth time at Firestone Country Club, Akron, Ohio, to lay down a marker to his peers ahead of this week’s US PGA Championship.
The World Number One cruised to an eight shot victory over England’s Justin Rose and Rory Sabbatini of South Africa, ending the week as the only player to shoot below par with a closing 65 for an eight under par total of 272.
Rose and Sabbatini were left feeling as if they were contesting a subsidiary event, shooting 68 and 74 respectively to finish on 280, level par, to earn cheques for $635,000.
Once again Woods showed that familiarity breeds anything but contempt. Content might be a more appropriate word, as the 31 year old enjoyed the surroundings of his private fiefdom. Nine times Woods has pitched up at Firestone and six times he has gone home with the booty. Never has he been outside the top four.
To emphasise his utter superiority, Woods has now completed the ‘double hat-trick’ of victories. He won in 1999, 2000 and 2001 while this most recent performance enabled him to complete a three-timer in 2005, 2006 and 2007. In total, he has won 14 individual WGC titles and one with David Duval in the WGC-World Cup. Accumulated earnings? A breathtaking $19,190,830, including his first prize of $1,350,000 for this week's work.
Woods admitted: "I just got into my own little world, like I tend to do every now and then. I just wanted to get round without a mistake. I kept making par after par and I felt it I could continue doing that, the other guys were going to have to get greedy and aggressive and probably make a mistake.
"I don't know why, but this golf course seems to fit my eye. Some years I've come here not playing well and then managed to play well. This course gives me confidence every time I come here."
Rose proved he is a man for the big occasion. He arrived in Akron admitting that his preparation felt “rushed” after a week lounging on the beach in the Virgin Islands, but a final round of 68, two under par, propelled him into a tie for second place.
Tied fifth, tenth and 12th respectively in the Masters Tournament, US Open Championship and The Open Championship, Rose had a putt to turn in 30. His birdie attempt just missed but his 31 strokes put him right into the thick of the action, albeit temporarily.
Woods, displaying a razor-sharp short game, chipped in twice as he prised five birdies from a hugely difficult golf course and made no bogeys on his way to the lowest round of the week.
Rose gave a rueful smile when he admitted: “I hadn’t looked at a scoreboard on the front nine and felt I had played my way back into the tournament at two under par. Then I looked up and saw that Tiger was seven under and I thought ‘oh, well, we’re playing for second!’ That’s obviously how it turned out.
“Conditions were difficult at the end and it was a big, big putt I holed on the last for par to get a share of second place. I’ve certainly played well at the right times this year and I’m excited about the momentum I’ve built up going into next week.
“My game was a bit off at the start of the week but I managed to stick around par or close to par and today I got it going. This is a major-style course and it seems the harder the course, the more it suits Tiger! He seems to have it mastered.”
Two of the main protagonists at The Open, Padraig Harrington of Ireland and Argentina’s Andres Romero, were prominent once again, finishing tied 14th and tied sixth respectively.
Open Champion Harrington closed with a two over par 72 – playing an exquisite pitch to a matter of inches at the last – to claim his highest finish in the event since his first attempt in 1999 when he tied for 12th on 285, five over.
Romero, who was undone by a triple bogey seven at the tenth, nevertheless finished with a round of 71 for a total of 282 to underline the huge potential which is now being realised by last week’s Deutsche Bank Players’ Championship of Europe victory in Hamburg.
Harrington said: “I stuck in well and probably got the most out of the weekend. That’s always a good sign. You know, I may have won The Open two weeks ago but it’s the same old story – a lot of work and a lot of discipline has to go into it.
“While I was good this week in my preparation, it’ll certainly need to be better for next week. I like all the hubbub. I’m only going to win my first Major once so it’s good to enjoy it. I was determined to put in a good effort this week and I think I did reasonably. Now it’s the PGA and I’ve got to get going for that.”