Brian Keogh in Tucson
Tiger Woods reached another career milestone in Arizona last night that simply served to add an extra layer to the impenetrable aura of invincibility he has built up over the course of a 12-year career.
His record-breaking 8 and 7 victory over Stewart Cink in the final of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship was his 63rd success on the PGA Tour from 218 starts and placed him fourth on the all-time victory list, surpassing Arnold Palmer and leaving him just one victory shy of Ben Hogan’s 64 titles.
Following his eighth time in nine starts worldwide, it would appear to be only a matter of time before he passes the 73 victories achieved by one Jack William Nicklaus. With a win ratio of 29 percent, Sam Snead’s record of 82 PGA Tour titles is well within his reach.
“I can’t wait to see Arnie,” Woods joked at the finish, flashing a smile. “Just to be mentioned in the same breath as Arnold Palmer and Ben Hogan. You have had a pretty good career.”
Putting was the key to Woods latest victory as a statistic of 51 birdies in 117 holes gave him his 15th WGC title from 25 starts and a cheque for $1.35 million (€911,000.
“I made a couple of putts,” he added, with considerable understatement. “Matchplay is very fickle and whatever your opponent does, sometimes have to react. This week, unfortunately I had to make a bunch of birdies to advance.
“Once I got the pace of the greens I was able to make the putts. This week I was three down with five to go against JB (Holmes) and made a couple of birdies and an eagle thrown in there. All of a sudden I won the match. But I had to go out and earn it. These guys don’t give leads away.”
This year, Woods has set himself the task of winning the Grand Slam and following his back to back wins in the Buick Invitational and the Dubai Desert Classic, he has not tasted defeat since Phil Mickelson denied him the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston nearly five months ago.
He’s been on fire since August last year when he claimed the WGC - Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone, coming from one stroke behind Rory Sabbatini to blow away the field by eight shots after a closing 65.
The following week he turned up the heat at Southern Hills in Tulsa, winning the US PGA Championship and his 13th major by two shots from Woody Austin before turning his attention to the FedEx Cup.
He won that too, but only after coming second to arch-rival Mickelson in a fascinating duel for the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston. Since then, he been peerless.
He won the BMW Championship at Cog Hill by two strokes and the Tour Championship in Atlanta by eight to wrap up the FedEx Cup title before coming back out to win the unofficial Target World Challenge with seven shots to spare just before Christmas.
He arrived in Tucson on the back of a perfect start a 2008 campaign he hopes will become a Grand Slam season.
Starting with an eight-shot win in the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines, which will host June’s US Open, he came from four shots behind Ernie Els the following week to pull off a one-stroke win in the Dubai Desert Classic.
In Arizona, he took control of the final from the start, racing into a four up lead by the turn and firing a 66 to Cink’s 71 to maintain that advantage after 18 holes.
He was just as impressive after lunch, winning the second with a birdie to go five up and then escaping with a half in bogey at the par-five fifth before winning the sixth, seventh and eighth with birdies to go eight up with ten to play.
Cink delayed the inevitable by draining a 36-footer for eagle at the 10th, where Woods 35-footer for a half horseshoed around the cup and stayed out.
It all ended at the 397-yard 11th, where Woods hit a wedge to two feet to claim another piece of history and bump Mickelson off the top of the FedEx Cup standings.
His 15th WGC win was his third in the matchplay series following wins at La Costa in 2003 and 2004. He has also won the Bridgestone Invitational and the CA Championship six times each.
Woods and Darren Clarke are the only players to have won more than one World Golf Championship with the Dungannon native beating the American 4 and 3 win in the 2000 matchplay final and then taking the 2003 Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone.
In the consolation match, Sweden’s Henrik Stenson beat Justin Leonard 3 and 2 to earn $575,000 (€388,000) and move up to second place in the Ryder Cup World Points List.
The defending champion raced into a four-hole lead after as many holes, holing a 36-footer for an eagle at the first before taking the second in par and the third and fourth with birdies.
He was pegged back to two up after 10 but Leonard bogeyed the 15th to go three down again and never recovered.
Final: Tiger Woods (USA) bt Stewart Cink (USA) 8 and 7.
Consolation: Henrik Stenson (Sweden) bt Justin Leonard (USA) 3 and 2.