Woods cruises to second Open title as challengers fall away

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The Independent Online

That was the spookily familiar truth that the world of golf will have to come to terms with once more this morning, and although the courageous figure of Colin Montgomerie had so much to stand tall about, the Scot's ego was one of the very few which has not taken an absolute kicking here these past four days.

Because Woods, the phenomenon, is back, make no mistake about it. His 10th major and his second Claret Jug screamed it yesterday as his 14-under total swatted off the gutsy challenge of Montgomerie in second. He barely had to lift his hand to see off Jose Maria Olazabal and Fred Couples, a further shot back in third. Only Walter Hagen's haul of 11 majors separates him from Jack Nicklaus on 18 in the table of leading major winners. Alas, their season is finished - Tiger has at least 10 years in hand.

"He knows, and everybody else knows, that he's on his way to Jack's record," said Montgomerie.

He sounded reverential as he said it, but then he might well have because Woods has now finished first, second and first in the three majors so far this year. Not bad for someone who was being written off.

"I couldn't really tell you what I would want to about all those who did say that," said Woods, after his 70 matched Montgomerie's. "But that's why I made those swing changes with Hank [Haney, his coach] - just to get back to this level."

In fact this could be a whole new level of Woods dominance, as some of his play yesterday was simply mesmerising, not just in its peerless application but also in its strength of will. If his putter had been hot here, then he would have won by a dozen.

In the spirit of competition, a cacophonous St Andrews was mighty glad he did not because never has a foregone conclusion been so exciting. The final scores may hint at a walkover but before the decisive stretch this was anything but. Woods has always said that the majors do not begin until the back nine on a Sunday, but in truth this was where he finished it. Up until then, this links had been a powder keg and Montgomerie was its fuse.

The cheers were never louder, or as hysterically expectant, than when the 42-year-old birdied the fifth to close to within one of Woods as the action started with a frenzy. Olazabal had done likewise after birdieing the fourth, but for some reason Monty focused the support, crystallised the excitement, and made everybody believe that yes, this was indeed possible.

Well, everybody but Woods that is.

He played that crucial fifth with utter contempt - his usual two-putt birdie after finding the par-five, 568-yard green in two - and the gap was back to two. "I figured that I was playing the same holes as Ollie and Monty," Woods later said. "And that if I birdie the same holes, then it's no worries, no blood."

And as he cranked up the might of his unique talent to stand over a four-footer to increase the deficit to three again on the seventh, and then again with a five-footer on the eighth, it was as if he had taken a sharpened graphite shaft to the bubble.

Except Woods missed them both and, for another hour at least, the game still seemed on, the Monty fairy tale still in the telling. In fact this unlikeliest of bedtime stories started to bear all the facets of reality when Woods took on the 10th green - some 391 yards away, but driven by the Californian on Friday - and could only find the under-lip of a bunker. He splashed out, knocked it in to 12ft, but with his errant putter twitching, Woods accepted the bogey with a shrug and the lead was down to one once more.

"This is Monty's chance," the links whispered, but as so often happens to the Scot in the majors, a mini-disaster magnified the futilities of all his labours. A three-putt from the back of the green of the par-three 11th took him two back and when he failed to locate the birdie that the wide expanses of the 12th demands, and when Tiger most definitely did, the breach was now back to three. Game over. Memo to Claret Jug engraver: "T-I-G-E-R W-O-O-D-S".

Three soon became four when Montgomerie missed a three-foot putt for par on the 13th and then became five when Woods brushed off the 618-yard 14th with his customary nonchalance. Two woods, a chip, a putt - birdie. Simple.

If it was a boxing bout you would have stopped it. If it was a knitting bout you would have stopped it. Montgomerie was a busted flush and could only hang on to his fourth second-place in the majors, because Olazabal had been washed down the sink long ago. Bogeys at the 11th, 13th and 15th did for the 39-year-old and only a birdie at the last gave him the share of third.

That was with Couples, whose remarkable 68 was just one of many cameos here yesterday. The 45-year-old has been so crippled by his arthritic back that it was a wonder he could hobble up this final fairway, never mind birdie it.

Then there was Bernhard Langer and his burst to the brink of the leaders before settling for a share of fifth with, among others, Vijay Singh and Sergio Garcia on seven under.

And then there was Nick Faldo as the 48-year-old performed one final jig on the last green after his incredible birdie-eagle fanfare to finish in a tie for 11th on six under.

But in truth, there was only Tiger. He became the first Open champion in 32 years to hold the outright lead in all four rounds and only the second player in history to win all four majors at least twice. Once more he stood alone here yesterday.

Tiger's 10 majors

* 1997 Masters (Augusta) Won by 12

70-66-65-69 = 270 (-18)

At 21 years, 13 months and 14 days, Woods became the youngest winner at Augusta in his first major as a professional, setting the record for the lowest total and largest margin of victory at the Masters.

* 1999 US PGA (Medinah) Won by 1

70-67-68-72 = 277 (-11)

Ten majors had passed without another win, but Woods looked like strolling away with this one when he was five clear with seven holes remaining until the 19-year-old Spaniard, Sergio Garcia, came with a inspired run. But Woods hung on grimly.

* 2000 US Open

(Pebble Beach)

Won by 15

65-69-71-67 = 272 (-12)

In winning by an incredible 15 shots in the 100th US Open, Woods broke the record for the largest margin of victory in a major and the US Open scoring record as well as seven other records.

* 2000 The Open (St Andrews)

Won by 8

67-66-67-69 = 269 (-19)

Woods never went into any of the 112 bunkers as he became only the fifth player in history to complete the set of major titles. This was also the biggest margin of victory in an Open for 87 years.

* 2000 USPGA (Valhalla) Won in play-off

66-67-70-67 = 270 (-18)

In a thrilling head-to-head, Woods took third straight major by beating fellow Californian Bob May in a three-hole play-off.

* 2001 Masters

Won by 2

70-66-68-68 = 272 (-16)

Make that four, and the Tiger-slam. David Duval bogeyed 17 and 18 to hand the world No 1 his moment of history. Nobody had ever held all the majors at the same time before.

* 2002 Masters

Won by 3

70-69-66-71 = 276 (-12)

Saw off Retief Goosen in final round to become only third golfer to retain The Masters title after Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo.

* 2002 US Open


Won by 3

67-68-70-72 = 277 (-3)

First Sergio Garcia crumbled, then Phil Mickleson's charge was only good enough for second.

* 2005 Masters

Won in play-off

74-66-65-71 = 276 (-12)

Some 10 majors had elapsed without a Woods win. Despite Chris Di Marco's gutsy challenge, Tiger would not be denied his fourth Green Jacket.

* 2005 The Open

(St Andrews)

Won by 5

66-67-71-70 = 274 (-14)