Tiger Woods once again confirmed his position as the dominant force in world golf on Sunday at the Medinah Country Club in Illinois, after carding a final round of 68 and winning the 88th renewal of the USPGA Championship by five strokes. His victory, which never looked in doubt after the fifth hole of the final round, moves him into second place on the all-time list of Major champions ahead of fellow American Walter Hagen.
Woods continued his record of never losing after entering the final round of a Major championship in at least a tie for the lead. His third USPGA Championship means that he becomes the first man to win ‘Glory’s Last Shot’ more than once at the same venue, following his win at Medinah in 1999. He has now won the last three tournaments that he has entered, a sequence that includes two Major championships after he clinched his third Open title at Royal Liverpool last month.
If his Open triumph last month was characterised by his accuracy and patience off the tee, his latest win at Medinah will probably be remembered for his putting. In the final round he holed a 25-foot putt at the 6th and a 30-foot putt at the 8th, reaching the turn in 32 and effectively ending the tournament as a competitive contest. His final total of -18, five clear of 2003 champion Shaun Micheel, included just three bogeys in 72 holes – the last of which came at the 71st hole yesterday when the tournament was already won.
He also continued his new-found patience off the tee, which began at Hoylake last month. Despite Medinah being the longest course to ever stage a Major he decided to use his 5-wood on most of the difficult holes, once again displaying a thirst for patience and accuracy over the length that he seemed to crave above all else in the early stages of his career.
The 30 year-old American has now won 12 Major championships and is two-thirds of the way to equalling Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18, a total that many observers have long said will never be bettered. While bookmakers and fans alike seem certain that Woods will pass this figure sometime over the next five years, the man himself remained extremely respectful to Nicklaus’ achievement in the aftermath of his latest comfortable victory.
“Jack’s record is still a long way away and it’s not something I can get in the next year or two,” he said.
“It took Jack over 20 years to reach his total and 18 is a very big number, a remarkable achievement. It’s going to take a whole career and all I can do is just keep plugging away at it.”
Woods claims that he is now playing better, more mature golf than when he won his ‘Tiger Slam’ in 2000/01, which is the only time in the history of modern golf than any man has held all four of the Major championships at once.
“I feel like I’m controlling the ball pretty good right now and, more importantly, I have a better understanding of how to get the most from my round and how to handle my emotions better. I feel like mentally I’m so much better prepared and physically I’m hitting the ball extremely well. I have a better understanding of my mechanics and my putting stroke now,” he revealed.
“It was a special day and I just had one of those magical days on the greens when I felt I could make a putt from anywhere. It’s not too often that you get days like that and I’m pretty lucky that it happened on the final day of a Major championship.”
England’s Luke Donald began the day tied for the lead with Woods on -14, but he was let down in his quest to become Europe’s first Major winner for seven years by his putter in the early stages of yesterday’s final round. Putts lipped the hole on the 4th and the 5th and he never recovered from losing early ground to his playing partner, carding a disappointing two-over-par score of 74 to finish in a tie for third place. The main consolation for Donald is that his final position means that he has reinforced his place in the European standings for Ryder Cup qualification.
“Tiger played very solidly today and made a fast start,” the locally based Englishman said.
“It made a big difference and he didn’t do too much wrong. Too many of my putts were just missing the hole but in the end nobody can argue that he deserved to win.”
Micheel won the USPGA Championship in 2003, and his return to form will have surprised many. He has had a torrid time since he won his only Major and had not made a cut at a Major championship for two years, but his final round of 69 was enough to leave him in second place on his own at -13. It was not, however, enough to clinch an automatic place in Tom Lehman’s US team for next month’s Ryder Cup.
Spain’s Sergio Garcia and Australia’s Adam Scott enjoyed their second consecutive good finishes at Majors by finishing tied with Donald on -12, though Scott will be more pleased with his final round of 67 than Garcia will be with his 70. The charismatic Spaniard clearly enjoys playing round Medinah, however – in 1999 he finished second to Woods at the same venue. Once again it was his putting that prevented him from making a serious charge at the winner, but European Ryder Cup captain Ian Woosnam will nevertheless be happy with the Spaniard’s form ahead of the clash with the USA next month.
Elsewhere, KJ Choi of Korea charmed the crowds and finished in the top ten on ten-under-par, while England’s Ian Poulter claimed his best ever finish at a Major championship after finishing on -9. Having been a member of the victorious 2004 team, Poulter will be hoping that his improved form will put him in contention for a Ryder Cup wildcard place. For the second successive Major it was a tournament to forget for world number two Phil Mickelson. Before he collapsed on the final hole at this year’s US Open the 36 year-old American was on the verge of overtaking Woods in the world rankings, but he struggled to a final round of 74 to finish on six-under-par, a massive 12 shots behind his great rival.