Don't You Just Love this Guy?
British Open Golf: Woods seizes an emotional title
Christopher Clarey International Herald Tribune
Published: July 23, 2006
HOYLAKE, England It was quite a contrast. After four days of phenomenally controlled golf at the British Open, Tiger Woods ended up sobbing uncontrollably in the arms of his caddie, Steve Williams, on the 18th green on Sunday.
Williams released his grip after a few seconds as if he sensed that Woods was about to release his, but Woods clung on: the sense of loss overwhelming the buzz of his second consecutive British Open victory.
"I've never done that; you know me," the usually self-contained Woods said. "It's just, I guess, all the thing that we've gone through of late.
"I'm kind of the one who bottles things up a little bit and moves on, tries to deal with things in my own way, but at that moment, it just came pouring out," Woods said. "All the things that my father has meant to me and the game of golf, and I just wish he could have seen it one more time."
Earl Woods, who was his son's golfing mentor as well as his father, died in May of prostate cancer after an extended illness. When Woods returned to the tour, at the U.S. Open last month, he missed the cut at a major championship for the first time in his professional career.
But Woods insisted upon arriving at Royal Liverpool Golf Club that he had come to terms with his father's loss in time for this major tournament, and his performance brooked no argument.
His American compatriot Chris DiMarco, who was playing despite the recent death of his mother, sank enough very long, very timely putts on the back nine Sunday to make it clear that he truly believed some higher force had big plans for him at Hoylake, too. But Woods kept hitting his 3-woods and 2- irons into the fairway and kept sinking shorter putts for birdies, and the result was a final-round 67 and a two-shot victory that made him the first man since Tom Watson in 1983 to defend his British Open title.
That statistic was worthy enough, but the more impressive one is this: Woods has held the lead on 11 occasions heading into the final round of a major championship and has now won all 11 times.
"He's got an uncanny ability, when somebody gets close to him, to just turn it up to another level," said DiMarco, who was within one shot of Woods on Sunday before his fellow American birdied 14, 15 and 16 to give himself plenty of breathing room.
At the tender golfing age of 30, Woods is tied for second on the all-time major championships list with Walter Hagen at 11. But to anyone watching Woods crying on Williams's shoulder and then sobbing in the arms of his wife, Elin, a few moments later, it was clear that this was the most emotional of his major victories.
"Coming up the 18th, Stevie said on the fairway, 'This one is for Dad,'" Woods said of Williams. "I said, 'I still have some more golf to play.' Once I finished out the hole, all those emotions just came pouring out of me. I guess they were locked in there."
Woods had played relatively little competitive golf this season because of his desire to spend time with his father and then mourn his father.
"The U.S. Open, he just wasn't there; he just wasn't ready," his coach, Hank Haney, said.
Since Woods won the British Open in similarly benign weather conditions at St. Andrews last year, the leading man in the majors has unquestionably been his American rival Phil Mickelson, who won the U.S. PGA, the Masters and should have won the U.S. Open.
But Mickelson never mounted a serious challenge here, finishing 13 shots behind Woods despite doing all the homework possible on this Royal Liverpool course that was making its return to the British Open rotation after 39 years.
While Mickelson was making repeat visits to the Wirral Peninsula to learn the lay of the relatively flat land, Woods arrived the weekend before the tournament to start cramming, and after seeing how hard the fairways were because of a long stretch of atypically dry and warm weather, he quickly arrived at the conclusion that it was better to take a low-risk approach.
Instead of hitting drives, he would use 3-woods and low irons off the tees and not trying to tempt fate or the many fairway bunkers that litter this course. He hadn't carried a 2-iron in his bag all season, but he made frequent and brilliant use of it here. In four rounds, he hit just one driver, and that was on opening day.
"I thought this golf course lent itself to that type of play," Woods said. "For me, if I hit my driver, my natural flight has now come down a little bit. I felt if my ball landed on the fairway, I really couldn't control my ball on the grounds. In a couple practice rounds, I was hitting 400-yard drives. You just can't control that."
Woods' conservative plan worked beautifully, and his final score of 270 (18-under par) was anything but conservative. He shot 67 in the first round, seized the lead with a 65 in the second round, held his ground with a 71 on Saturday and then left a very well-stocked leaderboard in the dust - of which there was plenty here- on Sunday with his masterful 67.
"Everybody thinks its because he can't hit his driver," said Haney of Woods's tactics. "That wasn't the case. The ball is going forever. How are you going to make it stop? Yeah, you're closer to the green down there. But you can't go at the pins anyway, so what good does it really do you? To be honest with you, after he got through the second hole in the first practice round, he'd already figured out he was going to be playing irons."
Woods started the day at 12-under, with only a one-shot lead over DiMarco, Ernie Els and his playing partner Sergio García, the 26-year-old Spanish extrovert who walked to the first tee wearing yellow from neck to toe. It was a bold move from a young man who had moved into contention by scorching the course with a 65 on Saturday. But yellow clearly does not have the same cachet here on this usually windswept stretch of northwest English coast as it did as the Tour de France ended in Paris on Sunday.
García, making his first visit in a while to Woods's fan-filled, camera- filled world, would be the first of the potential champions to fall away, as he missed a short putt for par on the second hole and an even shorter putt for par on the third.
Ángel Cabrera, only two shots back at the start of the day, quickly eliminated one of the best potential story lines by making a triple bogey on the second hole, which all but ruled out a repeat of his Argentine countryman Roberto de Vicenzo's victory here when the Open was last staged at Hoylake in 1967.
Jim Furyk, also two shots back at the start, bogeyed the first two holes, and so it soon became clear that whatever tussle there would be was going to be between Woods, Els and DiMarco.
Els, the big South African who won the British Open in 2002, was the first to make a move, birdieing the par-5 fifth hole and moving him into a tie with Woods at 13-under. But Woods, playing behind Els and DiMarco, responded quickly. He had come very close to making long birdie putts on the second and third, and on the fifth, he holed a 25-foot eagle putt that gave him back a two- stroke lead.
Woods was playing clinical golf. On the front nine, he would miss only one green and consistently put his tee shots in prime position. Meanwhile, his competitors were having to scramble, but DiMarco, a gritty 37-year-old with an odd putting grip that can sometimes produce birdies in bunches, scrambled well enough to stay in touch with the greatest player of his generation who had beaten him in a playoff to win the 2005 Masters.
A birdie on the 10th hole put DiMarco within two strokes of Woods and on 13, he sank a 25-foot birdie putt to drop to 14-under. Minutes later, Woods made his only bogey of the day on the 12th hole after badly misjudging an approach shot.
The lead was once more down to one shot, but even though DiMarco made a putt of at least 50 feet, or 19 meters, to save par on the 14th and clenched his fist with understandable satisfaction, Woods was about to take over for good with three consecutive birdies that took him to 18 under, which is where he remained.
DiMarco was coping with loss of his own. His mother Norma died on July 4, and he only made the trip to England because he was convinced that his mother would have wanted him to play. "I had a lot of divine intervention out there; I felt my mom there the whole week," he said.
But in the end, there would be no thrilling finish. DiMarco and Els, who finished five shots back of Woods with a 275, smiled as they walked down the 18th, making comments to their friends at home by speaking into the lens of the television camera that was tracking them.
Woods stayed on task until the bittersweet end and has now won three British Opens, after winning in 2000 and 2005 at St. Andrews. Jack Nicklaus, Woods's historical measuring stick, also won three, but he still has the lead over Woods with 18 major championships.
The gap continues to narrow, though, and what happened Sunday will certainly have a prominent place in Woods's career scrapbook. Perhaps it was a coincidence that the two men who finished on top of the leader board here were playing for somebody else this week.
But it was certainly no coincidence that the man who ended up winning was Woods.