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Woods rounds out exceptional year

He wins the Target World Challenge by seven shots, tying a tournament record with a total of 266.

December 17, 2007|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

He won the first tournament he played and the last tournament he played, a bookend excess of success that we're conditioned to expect from Tiger Woods.

His last round of the year Sunday in the Target World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club amounted to nothing more than an 18-hole ceremony honoring the world's best player and starring exactly the same guy.

It's the Tiger Woods Show, the greatest hit in golf, and after his closing round of 68 worth a seven-shot victory over Zach Johnson, his stature inched up a few more notches, if that's even possible.

But make no mistake, Woods doesn't see this as the beginning of anything.

"It's the end of the year," he said. "It's been just a great year. It's been a long year, but also one that we've thoroughly enjoyed."

Woods' 22-under total of 266 tied the tournament record, and for the fourth time he donated his winner's check, $1.35 million, to his foundation and learning center. His eighth victory of the year, even if it doesn't count toward his total of 61 PGA Tour wins, was merely the closing chapter in another remarkable calendar year for Woods.

"On the golf course, it's been a great year. Off the golf course, it's been the greatest year I've ever had."

So what does Woods do now? He's going Christmas shopping for his 5 1/2 -month-old daughter, Sam, with Woods getting a half-day to shop with her and wife Elin getting the other half-day. As for Woods, he received his Christmas gift early, the chance to kiss Sam, held aloft by Woods' mother, Kultida, as he left the 18th green.

Elin got a kiss from Woods too, but he didn't show quite the same level of affection for the players he left in his wake, although handing out $5.75 million in prize money probably eased the pain somewhat.

Woods had a seven-shot lead after three holes, but a three-putt bogey at the seventh and a missed green at the ninth that led to another bogey allowed Jim Furyk to get to within two shots at the turn.

"All of a sudden it was looking good, tight," said Furyk, who was four under on the front.

And all of a sudden, it changed. Furyk looked at a birdie but three-putted the 10th for a bogey, and Woods dropped in a birdie putt from 12 feet.

The rout was on. When Woods hit consecutive five-woods at the 537-yard 16th and then sent the ball scurrying into the hole from 18 feet for an eagle, no one had a chance.

Furyk fell to third with his 71 that included a second consecutive double bogey at the 15th, once again knocking his tee shot into the water.

Said Furyk: "I wouldn't mind dynamiting 15, to be honest with you."

Johnson, who closed with a 68, was second at 15-under 273. But he was a distant second, all because of Woods.

"I don't know if that guy knows what pressure is," he said.

If Woods is a phenomenon, then he's a paranormal star in long standing.

Woods turns 32 this month and will kick off his 12th full year on the PGA Tour when he shows up at Torrey Pines in late January for the Buick Invitational at La Jolla.

More than one player made the observation during the tournament that Woods seems to be on the upswing again, as if his trajectory has been anything but soaring for as long as anyone can remember.

Except for those couple of wobbles on the front, Woods remained as predictably brilliant as ever.

"It seems like Tiger is getting back on that momentum train that derails very little," Johnson said.

The last hammer dropped at the 166-yard 17th, where Woods swung a seven-iron and stopped the ball seven feet from the pin. When he sank the putt, there was nothing left to do except say goodbye to 2007 and wonder what's next for Woods.

One thing's for sure, said Colin Montgomerie, that 2 1/2 -month break Woods took before this tournament didn't mean much.

"Doesn't help us, does it? If he took a bloody year off, it would help."

--

Rory Sabbatini became the first player in tournament history to withdraw, citing "personal reasons" to the PGA Tour after clearing out his locker Saturday afternoon and flying Sunday morning to Hawaii.

Sabbatini's agent blamed shin splints as the reason for the withdrawal.

Sabbatini, 28 shots behind Woods and last in the 16-player field after 54 holes, still received prize money of $170,000, but probably further damaged his relationship with tournament host Woods.

Woods acknowledged that Sabbatini did not telephone tournament director Greg McLaughlin to tell him he was injured and would not be able to play. Woods rolled his eyes when asked whether he was angry.

"I'd like to try to get to the bottom of it when I'm done here, and we'll see what happens," Woods said.

McLaughlin characterized Sabbatini's absence as disappointing and sad.

"Will he ever be invited to any of our events ever again? Highly unlikely."

Fred Couples was skeptical of the explanation from Sabbatini's agent, Bud Martin, when he said the absence was because of shin splints.

"Of course he did, and Roger Clemens' agent said he didn't do steroids," Couples said. "Until we hear from Roger . . . "

The Sabbatini-Woods relationship has remained frosty, at best.

Earlier in the year, Sabbatini said Woods looked "as beatable as ever," and Woods responded that he had as many victories so far in the year as Sabbatini had in his career.

Sabbatini and Woods were later paired together in the final round at Bridgestone, where Woods turned a one-shot deficit into an eight-shot victory.

Brett Wetterich, playing alone and without Sabbatini, played his round of 69 in 2 hours 22 minutes and finished six holes ahead of the next-to-last group of Couples and Niclas Fasth.

Mark Calcavecchia said Sabbatini was simply being himself.

"I think I could have toughed out one more round. But no big deal. I don't think the fans missed him anyway."

--

thomas.bonk@latimes.com

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