Tiger keeps nerve to take PGA crown

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The Independent Online

In a fitting conclusion to perhaps the greatest summer of golf, Tiger Woods birdied the last two holes in regulation and won the PGA Championship in a playoff over Bob May, becoming the first player since Ben Hogan in 1953 to win three majors in one year.

In a fitting conclusion to perhaps the greatest summer of golf, Tiger Woods birdied the last two holes in regulation and won the PGA Championship in a playoff over Bob May, becoming the first player since Ben Hogan in 1953 to win three majors in one year.

This wasn't a runaway like the U.S. and British Opens. Not with the steely determination in his eyes. Not with sweat pouring down the side of his face. Not the way he charged after putts as they fell into the cup, and pumped his fists like never before.

The thrills didn't end Sunday until May, the most unlikely of challengers, nearly made a 40-foot (12-meter) birdie putt on the final hole of the three-hole playoff. Woods blasted out of a bunker to 2 feet (0.6 meters), and made the putt for par. It was the easiest shot he had all afternoon. Woods now has won four of the last five majors, his first in a playoff.

By winning at Valhalla Golf Club, he became the first player to repeat as PGA champion since Denny Shute in 1937, and the first since it went to stroke play in 1958. Woods not only won the PGA. He now holds the scoring record in relation to par in every major championship, an 18-under 270 that allowed him to get into the playoff.

Last month at St. Andrews, the 24-year-old Woods became the youngest player to complete the career Grand Slam, with an eight-stroke victory. In June, he won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by 15 shots.

This was no less impressive. "The fireworks started on the back nine," Woods said. "This is probably one of the greatest duels I've ever had in my life. Hats off to Bob. He played his heart out."

May tested Woods like no one else in the last two majors, taking the lead with a two-shot swing on the second hole and never giving it up until the end. "I think I have a big heart," said May, who closed with a 6-under 66. "People weren't expecting me to do what I did. I think I proved to them that I can play golf.

"If I would have won, it would have been a dream come true." Tied with Woods going to the 72nd hole, May holed an 18-foot birdie putt from the fringe that put Woods in a perilous situation - a 6-foot birdie putt to get into the playoff. It curled in on the left side, Woods punching his fist and letting out a roar.

Woods took a one-stroke lead on the first playoff hole, No. 16, but not until after May showed he wasn't going away, hitting a 70-yard chip from the rough that stopped inches from the cup. Woods tracked his 25-foot birdie putt, trotting after it and pointing at the ball as it dropped for birdie. Both players made impressive par saves on the 17th, setting the stage for even more drama on the 18th.

Woods hit his drive well to the left and into a sycamore tree. It dropped onto a cart path, bouncing so high it hit the tree again before rolling down the path onto some trampled dirt. He hit his approach into the left rough, and his third shot into a bunker. But May failed to capitalize. He hit across the fairway into more rough, and his approach caught the ridge on the horseshoe-shaped 18th green, some 40 feet away.

After Woods hit out of the bunker to 2 feet, May's only hope was to make a putt that was as long as his chances. It almost went in. But this year - this game - belongs to Woods. He closed with a 67, his 15th consecutive round at par or better in the majors.

He has had at least a share of the lead in 11 of the last 12 rounds in the majors, unprecedented domination.

Hogan won the Masters, U.S. and British Opens in 1953. He could not play in the PGA because his legs were too battered from a car accident, and the PGA was held during the same week as British Open qualifying that year.

Hogan never won another major. Woods is still getting warmed up. Woods won $900,000 to push his earnings to $6.69 million for the year, already breaking the PGA Tour record he set last year. And he still has two more months to play. Thomas Bjorn of Denmark had a 68 and finished third, five strokes back at 13-under 275.

He was among five other players who looked like they might have a chance to claim the Wanamaker Trophy when Woods stumbled early. Two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal (69) and Australians Stuart Appleby (69) and Greg Chalmers (70) were another stroke back.

May and Woods came from the same junior golf section in Southern California, although the 31-year-old May was a star as Woods was just getting started. Few could have guessed their paths would someday cross at Valhalla, with a major championship at stake.

Woods has won 26 times around the world, 22 of those on the PGA Tour. May's only victory came last year in the British Masters on the European tour, although he showed his mettle by holding back Colin Montgomerie and Lee Westwood, Europe's best two players.

At Valhalla, the back nine turned into match play, a format the PGA Championship ditched in 1958. It more than held its own against some of the greatest duels ever. It was the best player in the game against a player few had even heard of until this week. While Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and Davis Love III failed to mount a challenge, May seemed to relish it. He outplayed Woods for the first half of an incredible back-nine duel. But just when it seemed like May would be the latest unheralded PGA champion, Woods came out of the corner with a fury.