Tiger Woods, playing rock-steady golf, was coasting toward his 79th career win on the PGA Tour as he preserved a commanding seven-shot lead midway through last night’s final round at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
Seven ahead overnight at Firestone, where he is bidding for a record eighth World Golf Championships title, Woods covered the front nine in level-par 35, effectively shutting the door on his closest pursuers.
Though he surprisingly missed a six-foot birdie putt at the par-five second, he was bogey-free as he remained at 15 under for the tournament on a warm, blustery afternoon.
Defending champion and fellow American Keegan Bradley was alone in second, three under for the day after 11 holes. Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, Britain’s former world No 1 Luke Donald, Swede Henrik Stenson and American Jason Dufner were a further stroke back at seven under in a tie for third.
Most eyes, however, were firmly focused on world No 1 Woods in his hunt for a fifth victory on the PGA Tour this season in only 11 starts as he seeks to build momentum for this week’s US PGA Championship, the year’s final major.
The galleries were lined three-to-four deep on the right side of the fairway before Woods teed off in the final round, fans having welcomed him with shouts of “Go Tiger”.
After using an iron off the tee at the par-four first to find the left portion of the fairway, he struck his approach just short of the green into the rough from where he chipped five feet past the hole and made the putt to save par.
Wearing his trademark Sunday red shirt, Woods played solidly for the next eight holes, lining up mid-range birdie putts on each green while squandering his only close opportunity from six feet at the second.
The tournament was effectively over after Woods had distanced himself from the high-quality field with a stunning nine-under-61 on Friday and many of his rivals all but conceded they were playing for second place.
“This would be a heck of a tournament for the fans and everybody out here if he wasn’t playing, but that’s not the case right now,” smiled Dufner, who was alone in third overnight.
Should Woods seal his eighth victory at Firestone, he would equal the mark he already shares with Sam Snead for most wins at a single PGA Tour event. It would also leave him just three shy of matching the World Golf Hall of Fame member’s overall record of 82 career PGA Tour victories.