Sunday, 24 February 2008

Tiger Woods earned his 15th individual World Golf Championship title when he comfortably beat fellow American Stewart Cink 8 and 7 in the 36 hole final of the WGC – Accenture Match Play at The Gallery Golf Club near Tucson.

The World Number One and top seed was an overwhelming favourite to win before the contest began and proved the bookmakers’ faith to be spot on when he moved smoothly to a four hole lead after the morning’s 18 holes.

Woods carded seven birdies in those 18 holes, form which was far too hot to handle for his old friend Cink, and even when the World Number One did drop a shot to par, as he did when he found sand twice on the 18th hole, Cink could not take advantage, three putting from the back of the green to halve the final hole of the morning in bogey five.

It was a mistake Cink – a four time winner on the US PGA Tour – was to live to regret as any hope he harboured of making a fast start to the afternoon round was quashed immediately as exactly the opposite occurred.

A birdie at the first was good enough only for a half as Woods followed him into the hole from five feet and when the World Number One holed from three feet at the second for a winning birdie three, he moved five up. The question then was simply which hole the victory would come at for Woods, not if.

Cink held his own for the next three holes before Woods put his foot on the accelerator as the match neared the turn, successive birdies at the sixth, seventh and eight holes putting the 32 year old American eight up with only ten holes left.

Cink afforded himself a stay of execution at the 534 yard tenth hole with a brave eagle three, but it proved to be the briefest of cessations as Woods brought the axe down at the very next hole, the 402 yard 11th, with a superb birdie three after his approach shot left him a mere three feet from the pin.

After accepting the decorative Walter Hagen Cup, Woods said: “Today was a lot of fun. I made a bunch of birdies and put a bunch of heat on Stew. I got off to a quick start and never really let him get back into the match.

“I think I enjoy the World Golf Championships because they are exactly what they were meant to be, and that is putting the best up against the best more often than just the Majors.

“I think that’s why we as players and competitors love them, love the idea that we can go head to head more often. A lot of the guys play in Europe or other parts of the world and we don’t get the chance to buck heads that often.

“Now we can do it more frequently, I think it’s been a huge success and I just love playing against the best players in the world.”

For his part, beaten finalist Cink admitted he had tried hard but had never really been at the races. “I’m very proud of the way I played all week until today to be honest,” he said. “I’m a little disappointed I didn’t throw a bit more at Tiger, put some pressure on him. It wasn’t that close a match – I think that needs no further explanation.”

American sport in general is statistic obsessed, very often to the detriment of the story and people involved. However, on this occasion, it does merit taking a look at some of the mind-boggling numbers Woods has crunched in his career to date.

The victory in Arizona was his 15th in 26 starts in individual World Golf Championships with his prize money haul from this series of events alone a mere finger touch away from $20 million, with his total prize money haul on the US PGA Tour now being in excess of $78 million.

In his 218 professional starts on the US PGA Tour, he has now won 63 times, an incredible strike rate of 28.889%, or, in layman’s terms, he is close to winning one out of every three events he enters.

He has now won seven of his last eight starts on the US PGA Tour and The European Tour combined, leading back to the WGC – Bridgestone Invitational last August and the only one of those he didn’t win, the Deutsche Bank Championship on the US PGA Tour, he finished second.

Finally, his tally of 63 US PGA Tour wins moves him past Arnold Palmer (62 wins) into fourth on the all-time list of victories on the American circuit and only one behind Ben Hogan who is currently third with 64. (Sam Snead leads with 82, Jack Nicklaus is second with 73).

“I think any time you are associated with Arnold and what he’s done with the game of golf, it is always a positive thing,” he said. “He has been the ambassador of the game since the 1950s and it’s hard to believe it has been 50 years since he’s been the flagship of golf on a global stage.

“I will definitely be contacting him soon but I can’t say what I might say to him. When I see him though, I’ll probably give him an earful and I’m sure he’ll do the same to me!

“When I turned professional I could never have foreseen my victory total being this high, the game improvement in general being as much as it has been. I knew I was going to have to get better but I didn’t think I was going to have this victory total when I started out.”

Of course, the only question remaining now is, what will his final victory total be? The world of golf is watching.


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