Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Peerless Tiger Woods rolls back the years at Firestone

A true champion: Tiger Woods hits a putt, watched by an huge crowd, during his final round

Tiger's golf at Firestone yesterday wasn't anywhere near as spectacular as the statistics. However, it didn't need to be as the World No. 1 strolled to his eighth victory at Firestone, his 18th in golf's world championships and 79th on the US Tour, leaving Woods just three shy of Sam Snead's all-time record.

Woods started the final round on 15-under par, seven clear of his closest challengers and that's precisely how he finished after an even par 70 which featured just one birdie, at the par four 10th, and a three-putt bogey at 14.

In all, Tiger has prevailed in eight of his last 26 PGA Tour events, five of them in 2013 and two of the others, the Arnie Palmer at Bay Hill and Farmer's Insurance at Torrey Pines, where the 37-year-old has also won eight times.

"I don't know what it is, it just fits my eye," Woods said of his record at Firestone.

"Just because it fits your eye it doesn't meant you're going to play well, but for some reason it just comes out and I have put it together.

"Today I was conservative, just trying to make pars. I figured the highest score I could shoot was 70 and that would force the guys to shoot 63 or 62 and I just felt this was a perfect day to protect.

"The conditions were blustery and tough and it was hard to shoot a low number but it was easy to shoot a number around par."

Woods now has an impressive five wins this season but the last of his 14 major titles remains the 2008 US Open.

Asked about the US PGA Championship at Oak Hill next week, he added: "I'm really looking forward to it. I feel like my game is pretty consistent.

"That's one of the things I've noticed this year is that I have hit it pretty good most of the year and weeks I've putted well I've been able to win so it's been pretty good so far."

Cut Woods loose on his favourite courses and he's unbeatable, especially if they're as soft and vulnerable as Firestone last Friday, when Woods equalled his career best round score with a 61 which left everybody else playing for second in Akron.

With the greens at the South Course playing as hard, fast and intimidating as they did yesterday, not even Tiger was going to feast on birdies.

The salient question entering this week's US PGA at Oak Hill concerns his ability to dominate when his pulse is racing at the climax to a Major.

Defending champion Keegan Bradley closed with 67 to share second place with Tiger's playing companion, Henrik Stenson, after a 70 by the resurgent Swede.

Shane Lowry was most satisfied by far of Ireland's trio even if he finished 48th and behind Ulstermen Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell.

McIlroy's hopes of hauling himself out of a form slump for the second year in succession at Firestone and give himself an adrenaline shot before this week's defence of his US PGA title went unfulfilled.

A final round 72 left the 24-year-old World No 3 tied 27th on two-over, a tepid conclusion following his encouraging one-under 69 on Saturday, the first time McIlroy beat par in 12 rounds since Friday at June's Memorial tournament.

After playing his opening 12 holes in even-par, which was decent enough, McIlroy stumbled to a dispiriting double-bogey at 13.

The problems started when he hit his drive right into deep rough, failed to make the short grass with his next and, in keeping with some pretty imprecise wedge play, hit his third shot through the green at the 471-yard par four.

Bogey followed at 14, when McIlroy's 130 yards approach fell short of the green, a recurring theme on the South Course as golf's finest played in mortal fear of the greens. Still, he battled on, making back-to-back birdies at 16 and 17.

Lowry was magnificent down that finishing stretch, boosting his confidence going into his fourth Major and second PGA Championship with a hat-trick of birdies on 15, 16 and 17 for a one-under-par 69.

Not bad, considering he bogeyed two of the first three holes including a three-putt on the third, where Lowry missed from four feet for par.

No such problems for the Clara man at the finish as he holed-out from 18 yards off the green at 15 and sank 18-footers at the next two holes.

Wallowing at eight-over after Friday's 76, Lowry played the weekend in one-under and was delighted to report on Twitter after his final round: "Decent day ... Shot -1 and my GAA bets came in. #Carlsberg Sunday!"

McDowell seemed to set himself up for a storming finish with sweet birdies on the first two holes. Yet after five bogeys in six holes to the turn, four of them out of bunkers. He did well to shoot a two-over 72.

The highlight for McDowell was the 70-foot putt he holed for birdie on 14, while he'll be encouraged by an impressive display off the tee, an area of the game which will be key at Oak Hill.