Woods earns record-breaking victory at Match Play Championship

MARANA, Ariz. &

Even in another landslide victory, Tiger Woods conceded nothing.

He already was 8 up with nine holes to play and headed for the record books at the Accenture Match Play Championship when Stewart Cink finally got his moment in the high desert, holing a 36-foot eagle putt, pumping his fist in mock celebration.

Then he stood to the side of the green as Woods faced an eagle putt from the same line, about a foot closer.

"I told my caddie before he hit it that it was going in," Cink said. "He doesn't like to be upstaged in any way."

Alas, this putt spun around the lip and stayed out. Having raised his putter over his head, Woods cringed and let the club fall through his finger, and both players laughed and tapped fists.

It was that moment Sunday at Dove Mountain that illustrated where Woods is on the world stage of golf.

His expectations have never been higher.

His game has never been stronger.

Woods closed out Cink on the next hole with a wedge that climbed over a bunker and spun back to 2 feet, his 14th birdie in 29 holes in his 8-and-7 victory, the largest margin in the 10-year history of the tournament.

It was his 63rd career victory, moving him past Arnold Palmer into fourth place alone on the PGA Tour's career list.

He won for the 15th time in these World Golf Championships, earning more money in 26 starts than Tom Lehman has earned in 438 starts in his PGA Tour career.

"It says about the same thing that just about any other stat you can pull up of him says," Cink said. "It says he's the best that's ever played. I don't know what else to say about that."

Each victory moves him closer to the game's greatest players. Ben Hogan is next on the list with 64 victories, then Jack Nicklaus at 73 and Sam Snead at the top with 82.

Snead is safe. Woods plays no more than 17 times a year, so even if he runs the tables, he can't catch him this year. The thought of a perfect season is laughable, of course, except that Woods didn't smile when someone asked him if he could win them all.

"That's my intent," he said. "That's why you play. It you don't believe you can win an event, don't show up."

Woods has thrived on the world stage, and his 15-for-26 mark in these events is hard to fathom. Fred Couples has won 15 times in his entire PGA Tour career.

As a professional, Woods is 13-for-44 in the majors, but those fields are deeper, the pressure stronger. At least that's the only explanation he could find.

"All I know is that I just love playing against the best players in the world," Woods said.

And beating them. But he does that just about everywhere right now.

This was his fourth straight PGA Tour victory, fifth worldwide. When he arrives at the Arnold Palmer Invitational for his next start, it will have been six months he last entered a tournament without winning.

"I think this is the best stretch I've ever played," Woods said.

Match Play might have been the biggest hurdle.

Woods considers it the toughest tournament to win this side of a major, which might explain why his record (3-for-9) is nowhere near his mark in the other World Golf Championships. He is 6-for-9 at the Bridgestone Invitational, 6-for-8 in the CA Championship.

And while he pummeled Cink in the 36-hole final, even Woods knows he was lucky to get this far.

Remember, he was — down with five holes to play against J.B. Holmes in the opening round Wednesday, on a course that favors power against a player who hit the ball farther, when Woods won four straight holes with three birdies and a 35-foot eagle, the signature putt over five days at Dove Mountain.

Two days later, Aaron Baddeley had him on the ropes. The Australian had a 10-foot birdie to win on the 18th hole, a 12-foot eagle to win on the 19th hole, and he missed them both. Woods won on the 20th hole with a birdie.

Defending champion Henrik Stenson was tied with Woods with two holes to play until the world's No. — player made birdie.

"I played 117 holes this week," Woods said. "I could have easily played 16 and then been home. That's the fickleness of match play."

But in those 117 holes, he managed 47 birdies and two eagles.

The hard part was getting to the finals. Once the round began Sunday morning in the crisp air north of Tucson, Woods settled into his role as a world-beater. He won five of the first 11 holes and took a 4-up lead into the afternoon round.

Then he ran off three straight birdies, and the rout was on.

"I'm a little disappointed I didn't throw a little more at Tiger, put some pressure on him," Cink said. "It wasn't that close a match. I think that needs no further explanation."

The consolation for Cink was a runner-up finish for the second time to Woods in these WGCs (Cink won at Firestone in 2004), $800,000 toward the money list, and a strong week in which he mowed down two major champions (Angel Cabrera and Padraig Harrington), the best player to never win a major (Colin Montgomerie), former British Open champion Justin Leonard and Ryder Cup player Miguel Angel Jimenez.

It was that last match that was next to impossible.

"He just has such a strong sense of believe in himself that he's just never out of it," Cink said. "He's always in control. He never loses his composure. And he doesn't very often throw away a shot. If your opponent is not ever really opening the door, then you've got to do something spectacular. And I didn't."

Cink made Woods sound like a machine.

"I think maybe we ought to slice him open to see what's inside," Cink said. "Maybe nuts and bolts."

Share This Story