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Tiger Woods hosts and stars in his own show

He makes key 20-foot putt on the 16th hole and wins his golf tournament by one shot over Hunter Mahan.

July 06, 2009|Barry Svrluga

BETHESDA, MD. — Tiger Woods gave the moment lip service Sunday, because technically, when he stood on the 12th green at Congressional Country Club's Blue Course, he could have lost the AT&T National, his very own golf tournament. He was tied for the lead. He had just hit a ball a hole earlier that neither he nor anyone else could find, leading to a bogey. He could have -- get this -- gagged it away.

"You can go either way," Woods said. "You can win the tournament, or you can lose the tournament."

Hunter Mahan had posted a 62 -- tying the course record -- and as Woods said, "He went out there and put so much pressure on me."

But pressure, with Woods, is like an old friend. So it was that he hit a poor chip on the very accessible par-five 16th hole, leaving himself 20 feet short. And with the pressure on -- the opportunity to either win the tournament or lose it -- Woods, of course, won it. He rolled in that long birdie putt to go one up on Mahan, parred the last two holes, and thrust both hands in the air, a 67 on the day, a 13-under total of 267 for the week, a champion at his own event.

"It was a long week," Woods said, "but I got the 'W.' "

Perhaps the most surprising development Sunday was that there was any doubt about that. The statistics are repeated often, but they remain amazing. Woods was tied with Anthony Kim when Sunday dawned, the 49th time in a PGA Tour event in which he had at least a share of the lead with 18 holes to play. His record in such events: 46-3.

"I have seen him dissect a golf course," Kim said. "He's done it to perfection in many tournaments."

Kim was battling a wayward driver and his own anxiety about playing with Woods in the final pairing. He seemed unable to make a move and provide a challenge. So Woods had only one remaining task: Conquer the brutal 11th.

In the first three rounds, he went bogey, bogey, double bogey on the 11th. His tee shot Sunday: the worst of them all, into the snaking stream that guards the right side, a ball marshals never found.

"Bad shot," Woods said afterward.

And there, the tournament could have swung. Mahan's brilliant round -- one that included nine birdies and matched Kim's 62 from Thursday as the Blue Course standard -- was coming to a close. Woods' ensuing bogey at 11 dropped him to 12 under. When Woods reached the 12th green, Mahan holed a 14-footer for birdie at the 18th. He was, somehow, 12 under as well.

"I birdied 10, have a three-shot lead, make bogey, then all of a sudden I'm tied?" Woods said.

With Kim unable to make a true run -- he hung at 10 under throughout the back nine, making eight consecutive pars until a bogey at 18 -- Mahan's score cast a shadow on the field, on Woods. Woods paid that mark homage -- "I certainly didn't see that score out there," he said -- but there was a sense, even with Mahan, that Woods would be at least one better.

"He's pretty good," Mahan said.

"He knows what he's doing. He knows how to play this game better than anybody. I thought he would get to probably 13 or 14 [under], actually."

All Mahan could do was watch on television from the clubhouse, where he was joined by Woods' wife, Elin, and the couple's two young children.

They chatted a bit, and when Woods narrowly missed a breaking 12-footer for birdie at 14, Mahan even yelled, "Yes!" -- "in a joking manner," he said.

But with Woods unable to best Mahan's score by the time he got to the 16th green, Mahan headed to the range to get loose for a possible playoff.

And there was more hope, because Woods' chip on the par-five -- "It wasn't that hard," he said -- came up those 20 feet short.

So here was, perhaps more than any other moment, Woods at his best, the guy who wins tournaments others would lose.

He stood over the putt, and a photographer distracted him, part of Woods' life. He stepped away, collected himself, and addressed the ball again. His thought: "Make sure I get it to the hole," he said.

That he did. Therefore, he won, the only reasonable outcome. There was, it would seem, drama. But with Woods, is the drama real?

"You just go about your business," he said, and that business is winning tournaments, not losing them, when his old buddy pressure is riding shotgun.

--

Svrluga writes for the Washington Post.

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