Golf: Woods is a winner but so is Monty

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GOLF

TIGER WOODS was not a bad banker for Colin Montgomerie to be relying on and even when Miguel Angel Jimenez became the unlikely challenger to the world No 1, Monty's magnificent seventh order of merit was finally secured. But Woods had to wait to cash the first prize of $1m (pounds 610,000) for winning the American Express World Championship until Jimenez was beaten in a play-off after another dramatic day at Valderrama.

That the Spaniard twice bogeyed the 18th, first in regulation to keep Woods's chances alive and then at the first extra hole, was only justice for an outrageous piece of misfortune that befell the American at the controversial 17th hole. Somehow, though, Woods always finds a way to win and he has emphatically become the game's dominant player as everyone expected after his US Masters win in 1997.

This was Woods's third win in successive weeks, his fourth in consecutive starts, the fifth in his last six events and eighth in the last 11. The run dates back to the Deutsche Bank Open in Germany in June and includes the USPGA Championship and now two of the three new World Golf Championships.

The 23-year-old had already secured the US money list title but he ended the season with $6.6m. Afterwards he paid tribute to Montgomerie's achievement. "Seven straight years is unbelievable," Woods told the Scot. "I'm coming after you."

Only three players broke par over the four days and Dudley Hart trailed in five shots out of the play-off score of six under. Valderrama was playing at its most difficult, the wind strong and blustery, the greens becoming crusty after being starved of water but the pin positions tucked away as if it was calm and soft.

Woods began the final round one behind Jimenez and Chris Perry but showed exactly why all the leading players believe he is fairways ahead of anyone else with a run of four birdies and an eagle in six holes from the ninth. Jimenez, though, kept with him, birdieing the 10th to draw level before Woods chipped in for the eagle at 11.

Knowledgeable observers reckoned Woods had never played better and the American walked off the 14th green seven under for the day with Bernhard Langer's course record of 62 under threat. But he dropped a shot at the 16th and Jimenez birdied the 11th and 14th.

Jimmy Patino, the owner of Valderrama, added three feet to the front of the 17th green to make the front-right pin position fairer but that is a relative term. David Frost had a 10 at the par-five, after going into the water three times, and there were three nines. Woods hit what appeared to be the perfect nine-iron shot but it stopped on the ridge 15 feet behind the flag and slowly but, inevitably, rolled back into the pond. "I thought I'd have a six-footer for birdie but I didn't hang my head," Woods said.

After the drop, Woods put his fifth to the back fringe and three-putted for a triple-bogey eight, the same score as his playing partner, Tom Lehman. Woods parred the last for a 68, while Jimenez bravely two-putted the 17th green but a poor drive set up a bogey at the last, although the Spaniard lipped out with his second chip for the victory.

Playing the 18th again in the play-off, Jimenez again found the left trees, played out into the right-hand greenside bunker, put his recovery over the green and narrowly missed the one back. With two for it, Woods holed his 12-footer for birdie. "I was lucky to be in the play-off but right now I feel pretty good," said Woods. "All the hard work with my coach, Butch Harmon, is paying off."

Montgomerie hardly finished the season like a champion. His closing 75, for five over par, included a double bogey seven at the 17th and a bogey at the last, but by then he knew he was safe. Lee Westwood finished at level par, Sergio Garcia one further back but Montgomerie thought it unfair that after his five victories - the World Match Play at Wentworth was unofficial - the Order of Merit was still on the line at all.

"I've had a fantastic year, my best ever and it wasn't safe," Monty said. "I haven't been under as much pressure for a long, long time. The Order of Merit should be over a year, not one tournament. If I had not had the phenomenal year I've had and got over pounds 400,000 ahead, the largest lead in European tour history, all 20 Europeans here could have won the Order of Merit instead of only four. I don't see that that's right."

SCORES FROM VALDERRAMA

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP (Valderrama, Spain) Leading final scores (GB and Irl unless stated): 278 T Woods (US) 71 69 70 68; MA Jimenez (Sp) 72 68 69 69 (Woods won at first play-off hole). 283 D Hart (US) 75 68 70 70 (pounds 182,827). 284 L Westwood 73 67 71 73; S Cink (US) 75 65 71 73; N Price (Zim) 69 71 70 74 (pounds 107;664 each). 285 F Funk (US) 71 68 74 72; S Garcia (Sp) 74 69 69 73; S Hoch (US) 69 70 72 74; C Perry (US) 70 67 72 76 (pounds 82;272 each). 286 B Estes (US) 69 72 72 73; J Furyk (US) 68 73 71 74; D Toms (US) 72 68 71 75; JM Olazabal (Sp) 73 69 69 75; J Leonard (US) 71 67 72 76. 287 D Love (US) 74 70 73 70; V Singh (Fiji) 67 71 75 74; T Herron (US) 71 66 75 75; 288 H Sutton (US) 75 66 69 78. 289 B May (US) 77 69 74 69; J Sandelin (Swe) 70 74 75 70; C Parry (Aus) 72 73 71 73; D Paulson (US) 76 71 68 74; C Montgomerie 70 72 72 75. 290 R Goosen (SA) 75 69 74 72; A Cabrera (Arg) 74 74 70 72; J Moseley (Aus) 76 69 72 73; M James 69 70 74 77; T Lehman (US) 72 67 71 80. 291 P Harrington 76 74 70 71; S Appleby (Aus) 76 66 74 75; J Van de Velde (Fr) 72 73 70 76; M Weir (Can) 73 68 72 78. 292 J Huston (US) 72 74 72 74; S Elkington (Aus) 74 72 71 75; J Sluman (US) 77 70 69 76. 293 P Lawrie 76 68 76 73; B Tway (US) 75 72 71 75; R Pampling (Aus) 71 74 69 79. 295 D Waldorf (US) 74 77 73 71; E Els (SA) 74 75 71 75; P Mickelson (US) 69 71 77 78; D Clarke 79 67 71 78; N Ozaki (Japan) 76 71 69 79; L Roberts (US) 72 72 71 80. 296 N Begay (US) 77 71 73 75; S Pate (US) 72 74 72 78. 297 J Maggert (US) 70 74 79 74; C Franco (Para) 75 73 74 75; B Langer (Ger) 71 70 80 76; S Dunlap (US) 74 71 75 77; T Tryba (US) 77 71 70 79. 298 K Hosokawa (Japan) 73 73 72 80; R Karlsson (Swe) 74 68 74 82.299 B Watts (US) 75 74 79 71; A Cejka (Ger) 79 76 72 72; B Geiberger (US) 75 71 68 85. 300 C Spence (Aus) 72 73 75 80. 304 T Bjorn (Den) 72 81 74 77; D Frost (SA) 76 73 74 81. 306 R Kaplan (SA) 78 75 73 80. Disqualified G Day (US).

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