USPGA Championship: Woods' willpower fights off Garcia

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The Independent Online

TIGER WOODS won the 81st USPGA Championship to claim his first major title since that record-breaking Masters triumph in 1997. But Woods, 23, had to overcome a player even younger and just as talented, Sergio Garcia, to do so.

TIGER WOODS won the 81st USPGA Championship to claim his first major title since that record-breaking Masters triumph in 1997. But Woods, 23, had to overcome a player even younger and just as talented, Sergio Garcia, to do so.

In his attempt to become the first teenager to win a major this century, the 19-year-old Garcia, "El Nino" to everyone in Spain, got within one stroke of Woods but, like his countryman Seve Ballesteros at Royal Birkdale in 1976, had to settle for the runners-up spot. Garcia closed with a 71 to finish 10 under par but Woods held on to win by one with a closing 72.

"It was amazing," Garcia said. "It's the best week of my life. I've never had so much fun playing golf."

Garcia has tracked Tiger's records, even though he turned pro almost two years younger. Woods won his fifth tournament as a pro, Garcia his sixth at the Irish Open last month. Woods won his first professional major, Garcia was annihilated at his first, shooting 30 over for two rounds at Carnoustie.

But in his second major Garcia gave Woods a run for the $630,000 (£387,000) prize on the back nine when the American looked to have one hand on the Wanamaker Trophy at the turn. When he birdied the 11th, Woods was five clear but he immediately bogeyed the next and the short 13th changed the scenario dramatically.

Garcia, in the pairing ahead, holed a downhill 20-footer for a birdie as the leader stood on the tee. Woods then put his tee short over the back, played ping pong across the green and eventually holed a four-footer for a double bogey five.

The margin was down to one but Garcia slipped two behind with a bogey at the 15th despite a fine recovery from the trees on the right with his second shot. But it was not as miraculous as his approach at the next. After his drive finished at the base of a tree, Garcia launched himself at the ball attempting a huge slice.

After regaining his balance, the youngster raced down the fairway and leaped in the air in time to see the ball land on the green. He made his par and then Woods misjudged his approach to the same hole and failed to get up and down from the front bunker.

Garcia went on to par the final two holes, his birdie putt at the last just missing as the gallery chanted "Sergio" around the final green. Missing another green at the 17th, Woods holed a brave six-footer to go to the last one ahead.

The start to Garcia's round had not promised what was to come. Having made only two bogeys in the first three rounds, Garcia found the water at the second but hit his third to 10 feet and holed the putt to limit the damage to save the double bogey. But he did not drop another shot and birdies at the fifth and 10th set up the dramatic conclusion.

Woods, in contrast, had the perfect beginning after starting the day tied with the Canadian left-hander Mike Weir, who fell away with an outward 40. There was a two-shot swing at the short second and Woods added two more birdies at the par-fives five and seven.

Out in 33 he had opened up a four-stroke lead over the charging Nick Price. The two-time USPGA champion from Zimbabwe went to the turn in 32 and then birdied the 11th to draw within three but the 42-year-old's challenge faded when he bogeyed the 12th and 13th.

The last time Woods was in Chicago, at the end of June, he had a profitable week. Not only did he win for the fourth time this season, at the Western Open, but Woods visited Medinah and played 27 holes, an invaluable aid to his preparation.

"I had a good time," he said of his earlier reconnoitre. "With nobody around I was able to take a more detailed look at the course than during the practice rounds here. I was able to understand what I had to practice and how to get ready for this week."

There was another ingredient as Woods tried to add what appeared an elusive second major. "Obviously there were high expectations when I came out and won by 12 strokes," Woods said. "Everyone thought you can do that every time you tee it up. Well, golf's not really like that. It is very difficult to win major championships but I've contended in them at a high level a lot now. When you have been there, you feel more at ease. I've learned from my mistakes as well as my success."

While Lee Westwood, the leading European after two rounds, continued to fall away with a 75 after his 74 on Saturday, Colin Montgomerie recorded his third successive 70 to finish at six under, comfortably in the top 10.

Monty birdied the last to finish on the same mark as Bob Estes. The American would have played his way onto the Ryder Cup team had he not bogeyed the 16th and 17th. He needed to finish tied for fifth to overtake Jeff Maggert in 10th place, but ended up tied for sixth.

Ben Crenshaw will announce his two wild cards today and they will most likely be Tom Lehman and Fred Couples.

Given that he only started earning Ryder Cup points when he turned professional in April, for Garcia to qualify in the top-10 is, European Ryder Cup captain Mark James said, "a tremendous performance. The guy has a huge talent and looks like being around for many years to come."

The low amateur at Augusta, Garcia finished third on his pro debut on the US tour at the Byron Nelson Classic. "For someone of his age to play tournaments so maturely is unusual," James added of the young Spaniard.