Tiger Woods does not lose leads in majors. Everybody knows that. But still the world No 1 had to remind everyone of one of sport's most incontrovertible truths with a two-stroke victory here yesterday. Perhaps they will believe him now.
Golf was certainly given 18 holes of case-dismissing evidence as he turned a frenzied stampede of would-be champions into the inexorable march of a will-always-be champion. His third Open title was ostensibly earned with a 67 for an 18-under total, but that only gives the barest outline of a story in which the runner-up, Chris DiMarco, played a quite spectacular role.
The teary scenes at the denouement highlighted that this was no normal Woods triumph; it signified something beyond mere silverware and another marking in the columns of the immortals. For a few emotional minutes at the back on the 18th green, Woods was a human being, a grieving son and not just the machine the game takes him for. That will be the abiding memory of Hoylake and an incredible Championship with an incredible winner.
But first, to what the end-plot of this unrepeatable drama means to the record books that Woods has put into almost perpetual reprint. The 30-year-old is the first back-to-back winner of the claret jug in 23 years, the last being Tom Watson at Birkdale, who now has a 13th companion in an exclusive Championship club that interestingly does not include a certain Jack Nicklaus.
And talking about the other holder of "the greatest player ever" tag, his live pursuer on the all-time major list now has a free path on his historic trail to breaking 18. Woods yesterday joined Walter Hagen on 11 majors and to put the "chase" into some sort of perspective, Nicklaus was two years older when he did the same.
In fairness to the 66-year-old, he has always said his young heir would someday take his crown and he will have certainly appreciated the boldness with which he enforced his majesty yesterday.
For Woods had this Open won after five holes and then had to win it all over again nine holes later. The early stages of the race were characterised by the déjà vu sighting of his principal rivals staying still or going backwards while he alone went forwards.
It was as if Saturday had never happened at all, when the pack caught up with him and Els and The Wirral screamed "game on". But then, as Els and DiMarco trod water and Jim Furyk and Angel Cabrera pinched their noses and went glug, glug, it was all of a sudden "game over" as an eagle on the fifth shifted Woods two clear.
Daylight for him, gloom for the rest.
Nobody peered into the dark more miserably than Sergio Garcia, the young Spaniard who so brilliantly lit up the third round with his 65 to bring Europe's first major in seven years into tantalising focus. In hindsight, the brakes were jammed on Garcia's challenge as soon as Woods birdied the 18th on Saturday evening and ensured he would stand next to a golfer he has never truly warmed to on the first tee come the decisive afternoon.
Twenty-fours earlier, Garcia had covered the first nine in 29 shots; now he took 10 more as the intimidation he unarguably feels when paired with Woods manifested itself most malevolently in his hapless putting stroke. He yanked a tiddler on the second, another on the third and soon it was spreading to every part of his game as he fell from joint second to out of the top 10 in a merciless couple of hours. It was painful viewing, only made more bearable by a ballsy finish that hauled him back up to joint fifth on 11-under. But still Europe's winless wasteland widens by the major.
Naturally, that was not preoccupying Woods, who seemingly only had the constant sound of the click of picture-taking mobile phones to contend with. After eight holes his lead was three and the claret jug engraver was searching for a reason not to start his work early and be home in time for tea. Up stepped DiMarco with a charge of such irresistible chutzpah that perhaps only Woods could have stonefaced it. The world No 1 looks upon other player's miracles as mere inconveniences, although the cheers resounding ahead of him must have been annoying in the extreme.
Woods had been here before, of course, at last year's Masters when DiMarco took him to the brink before he clambered back up in a play-off. These proceedings had a spookily familiar feel as the 37-year-old refused to lie down and proved why Tom Lehman will look on him as the soul of the American Ryder Cup team come September.
His par save on the 11th appeared gutsy enough, but the rescue on the 14th was summoned from the very pits of his competitiveness. A birdie on the 13th had dared bring him to within one of Woods - with his ball buried deep in a bank in front of the green, surrender beckoned until he holed the 60-footer.
But when this Tiger senses someone on his tail, he acts in the usual manner. He turns around, snarls, causes a few wounds before swaggering off into the sunset. Again it was the 14th - the hole where his four-iron into the cup on Friday first took him to the front - where he emphasised his superiority with a five-iron to eight feet. He was never going to miss. In the distance, DiMarco birdied the 16th - no matter, Woods simply struck it to six feet on the par-three 15th. When he applied the necessaries on the par-five 16th - three-wood, seven iron, two-putt - the gap was back to three and even DiMarco's will had been crushed. It was only left for the walk up the final fairway and a release of emotion never witnessed before from his steely countenance.
DiMarco would have empathised as he lost his own mother just a fortnight ago. But this was more than heart-wrenching sorrow that a parent was not here to celebrate with. For Tiger Woods had never done it without Earl Woods before and, after so long out adjusting to life minus his father and inspiration, he was not sure whether he could do it, at least this early in what he called his "transition".
"Stevie [Williams, his caddy] said to me on the last fairway 'this one's for your Dad'," said Woods. "But there was still some golf to play. When it was over, all these emotions just came out of me. I wish Dad could be here to witness this, as he enjoyed nothing more than me grinding out majors."
In reality, Earl would have recognised that this was much more than a grind. This was the peerless act of a sportsman who would not be swayed from his carefully plotted game plan, no matter how strong the temptation, how destructive the inevitable destraction. It was not a grind for Hoylake to watch, for sure. It was a unique conclusion to a unique Open with a unique champion.
Open all hours: How the drama unfolded throughout the final day as Woods saw off his challengers to win the claret jug
* HOW THEY STARTED
Woods -13, Els -12, DiMarco -12, Garcia -12, Furyk -11, Cabrera -11.
* 2.24pm: Jim Furyk bogeys the first and slips to 10 under.
* 2.31: Sergio Garcia laces his drive down the middle of the first. Tiger Woods matches him with a solid three wood.
* 2.35: Chris DiMarco misses a par putt to drop a shot on the first.
* 2.40: A poor start for Angel Cabrera, who hits a seven on the second to drop back to eight under.
* 2.42: Garcia makes a great putt for par on the first. Woods follows suit.
* 2.56: Woods goes close to a birdie on the second. Garcia misses a tough eight-footer to drop a shot.
Woods -13, Els -12, DiMarco -11, Garcia -11, Cabrera -11, Furyk -10.
* 3.09: Woods goes close again on three but settles for par. Garcia misses a relatively straightforward putt and drops another shot.
* 3.28: Ernie Els birdies the fifth to join Woods in the lead. Hideto Tanihara double-bogeys the sixth and slips to eight under.
* 3.33: Woods hits a bullet down to the fifth green to leave himself an eagle putt.
* 3.36: DiMarco (left) makes a birdie on the sixth to jump to one off the lead.
* 3.40: Woods holes his eagle putt on the fifth.
Woods -15, Els -13, DiMarco -12, Garcia -10, Cabrera -11, Furyk -10.
* 3.50: Garcia narrowly misses a birdie putt on the sixth.
* 3.58: Els looks to the heavens as he finds a bunker with his second shot on eight.
* 4.06: Els drops a shot to join DiMarco on 12 under. Woods has a three-shot lead.
* 4.20: Garcia drops another shot on eight.
* 4.25: DiMarco hits a birdie on 10.
* 4.27: Another bogey for Garcia puts him out of the running.
* 4.34: Woods complains about the use of camera phones on the tee then shouts 'no, no' after his second shot on the 10th. But it finds the edge of the green and he makes a birdie.
Woods -16, DiMarco -13, Els -12, Cabrera -9, Furyk -9, Garcia -8.
* 4.48: Els (left) bogeys the 11th and Cabrera bogeys the 12th as they slip further off the lead.
* 4.50: Woods misses a birdie putt on the 11th green but he looks safe in the knowledge that no one is challenging and he comfortably saves par.
* 4.59: DiMarco makes birdie on the 13th to get within two shots of Woods.
* 5.03: Woods drops a shot on the 12th. One shot between him and DiMarco. Garcia birdies.
Woods -15, DiMarco -14, Els -11, Furyk -9, Garcia -9, Cabrera -8.
* 5.15: Els birdies the 14th to go to 12 under with Adam Scott.
* 5.20: Woods hits a majestic second shot to the 14th. A birdie putt sends him two clear of DiMarco.
* 5.34: Adam Scott hits his ball out of bounds to effectively end his challenge.
* 5.36: DiMarco birdies the 16th to go within a shot of Woods - who responds with a birdie on the 15th. The gap remains at two shots.
* 5.47: Birdie for Woods on 16. Three-shot lead.
* 5.49: Tanihara goes round in 71 to finish on 11 under.
Woods -18, DiMarco -15, Els -12, Furyk -11, Garcia -9, Cabrera -9.
* 5.57: Furyk birdies the last, moving into fourth on 12 under.
* 6.04: Els finishes with a one-under-par 71. DiMarco finishes with a 68.
* 6.09: Purple flour bombs on the 18th fail to distract Woods.
* 6.17: Garcia (left) makes par for a 73.
* 6.18: Woods taps in for a par. The Open title is his.
* HOW THEY FINISHED Woods -18, DiMarco -16, Els -13, Furyk -12, Garcia -11, Tanihara -11, Cabrera -10.
All-time list: Woods climbs into second
US Open: 4
The Open: 3
Win span: 1962-1986
US Open: 2
The Open: 4
Win span: 1914-1929
US Open: 2
The Open: 3
Win span: 1997-
US Open: 4
The Open: 1
Win span: 1946-1953
US Open: 1
The Open: 3
Win span: 1959-1978
US Open: 1
The Open: 5
Win span: 1975-1983