YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Woods Saves the Best for Last

He makes his third consecutive eagle on No.18, giving him a six-shot lead.

October 01, 2006|Chuck Culpepper | Special to The Times

CHANDLER'S CROSS, England -- The hole has the eccentric name "Ruined Tower." Even though it sits in a country chock-a-block with golf history, it boasts no golf history whatsoever. It's nondescript.

The program for this week's American Express Championship notes its "tangly outcrop of grass" and its "gnarly waste of humps and hollows," but you might walk the 567 yards and remember nothing.

Somehow, this third-easiest hole of the week at the 4-year-old course at the Grove just north of London, this pedestrian par five has annexed quite the distinction.

It has become Tiger Woods' best hole on Earth.

It's the hole on which, barring confounding collapse, he'll have clinched the tournament title today in England by the time people wake in his birthplace of Cypress.

It's the hole where, with 99.9-percent certainty, he'll reach six consecutive PGA Tour victories for the second time, again tying Ben Hogan for the second-longest streak, which does not mention his ratio of eight victories in 15 tour events in 2006.

And it's the hole he eagled Thursday, and Friday, and then again -- no, really -- Saturday, leaving him at 19 under par with a six-shot lead over Adam Scott, impressive given the latter's 65, and prompting this question to Woods in the interview room: "Have you ever eagled a hole three times in a row?"

His answer: "No."

A good rain had just finished scrubbing some blue patches into the sky Saturday when yet another Woods approach to No. 18 plunked down near the back of the green and stayed put. As the world's runaway No. 1 player walked up to a swell of applause with his four-shot lead, he awaited a 34-foot eagle putt to conclude a day of putter-hatred. He felt he'd struck the ball better than in either his round of 63 on Thursday or his 64 on Friday, but that his long-keen putting stroke had deceived him into only three birdies and one bogey. So he struck the eagle putt, his 67th shot, but soon realized he'd misread the pace. As the ball started rolling, he reckoned it might bypass the hole by six feet.

"I had a left-to-right putt and I was just thinking, 'Make sure you get the pace right,' " Woods said. "Well, I didn't do that, but it still went in."

He held out his arms and smiled hugely, the tournament all but wrapped up.

Let's compare and contrast eagles, as the chance comes so rarely.

On Thursday, Woods drove the ball 306 yards onto the right side of the fairway, then hit a three-wood 267 yards to a spot 20 feet left of the cup. He made that putt, the only eagle of the day on No. 18.

On Friday, Woods drove 285 yards to the middle of the fairway, then hit a five-wood 246 yards to a spot 10 feet beyond the cup. He made that putt, one of three eagles that day on No. 18.

On Saturday, Woods drove 303 yards, but well left of sanity. It didn't matter. In the grass, he was "down grain," as he put it, and he was on No. 18 again. Of the 13 eagles in the first three rounds, six had occurred on No. 18, half by Woods.

"It's been good to me, hasn't it?" he said. "I mean, I pulled my tee shot left there and it hit far enough left where I was actually in the gallery. I actually had a great lie, down grain, and just hit a five-wood, trying to put the ball anywhere to the right of the hole to give myself some kind of angle, and it came off perfect. I couldn't have dreamed it to come out that far."

He'd played his best hole in the world again, mooting some comments from quasi-contenders who had seen Woods' five-shot second-round lead shrink to two at one stage.

Ian Poulter, who wound up nine shots behind Woods, had said, "Tiger hasn't really done anything yet today. He's one under par and he's let everybody in it."

No. 18 fixed that.

Said David Howell, who had drawn within two as had Stewart Cink: "I realized Tiger wasn't too far away." But then, "From the looks of it, he's stretched away from us again."

No. 18 ensured that.

At just about the time Woods hit his five-wood from the left 275 yards to the green, Scott, a 26-year-old Australian, trailed by four and told reporters he wouldn't want to trail by more than four going into today.

"I'm sure he'd love someone to give him a challenge because at the moment he slips it into fifth gear and no one even gets close to him," Scott said. "You know, I don't know if that's going to be me. I hope it is. But realistically, maybe I can do it one day, tomorrow, but I don't think I can do it all the time right now."

Woods at No. 18 bolstered that, and almost as Scott spoke. Then Woods came in and claimed he's playing better than at Hoylake near Liverpool in July, when he won his 11th major at the British Open, and at Medinah near Chicago in August, when he won a 12th major at the PGA Championship. He said even when his lead shrank to two, he knew he still had two par-five holes to play.

Those two still included No. 18, his best hole on Earth.

"It's a long par three," he cracked.

Los Angeles Times Articles