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C-Plus Game has Woods at the Head of the Class

Golf: His final-round 68 is good enough for a two-shot victory, making him the quickest 'two-millionaire' in PGA Tour history.


IRVING, Texas — Tiger Woods may have been leading the tournament by two shots after 54 holes, but he was concerned enough about the state of his golf swing Saturday night to ask his teacher, Butch Harmon, to make the four-hour drive from Houston for a quick tuneup on the practice tee before the start of the final round of the Byron Nelson Classic.

Harmon, who arrived at 12:30 a.m., reminded Woods about an hour before he teed off to keep his back straight and his posture a bit more upright. Then he stayed at the TPC Course at Las Colinas to watch his precocious pupil struggle early before demonstrating again why he is the most feared--and perhaps even revered--player in the world.

Even without his A-game--a C-plus, he called it--Woods rallied on the back nine and rode a hot Texas wind and some creative shot-making to a two-shot victory over Lee Rinker, who was playing two groups ahead. It was Woods' third title of the PGA Tour season and his second in a row.

And it came after taking a month off following his 12-shot Masters' triumph.

"I think he's closer to his A-game than he's letting on," Rinker said. "What's his A-game, 40-under par?"

Woods closed with a three-birdie, one-bogey 68 to finish at 17-under-par 263, tying the tournament record set by Ernie Els in 1995. Woods has won five of his first 16 events since turning pro in August, and his winner's check of $324,000 pushed him over the $2-million mark in lifetime earnings faster than any player in PGA history.

He has won $2,080,944; it took Els 50 tour events to go over $2 million.

"Winning like this means a lot to you because it goes to show you if you think well and have a good short game, you can win out here," said Woods, now the tour's leading money winner at $1,290,350 and No. 1 in Ryder Cup points for the U.S. team. "You won't always have your A-game. Look at [Jack] Nicklaus. Ask him how many times he had his A-game in majors and he'd probably say none. But he always managed his game so well."

Woods described the changes Harmon made as "a quick fix, put some bandages on it and go tee it up."

More than 100,000 spectators, including former Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson, who received a hug from Woods, were on the near-gridlocked grounds. Most were there to see a player dominating the game as no one has since Nicklaus in his prime.

Woods was scrambling all over the golf course Sunday, even knocking a three-wood tee shot into the water for a bogey on the third hole.

He tied for the lead with a 10-footer for birdie at the 426-yard 12th. Up ahead, Rinker missed an eight-footer trying to save par at the 445-yard 15th, and when Woods hit two consecutive drivers at the 554-yard 16th, then chipped to five feet and made the putt, he had a two-shot lead and was never threatened again.

Tiger Tracks

IN 1997

* PGA Events: 8

* Victories: 3

* Second-place: 1

* Earnings: $1,290,350


* PGA Events: 16

* Victories: 5

* Earnings: $2,080,944

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