Tiger finally tested in PGA victory

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Tiger Woods finally got a fight to the finish.

All summer long, he had been winning major championships with frightening ease. Fifteen strokes in the U.S. Open. Eight strokes in the British Open.

He was no less spectacular Sunday in the PGA Championship, when he had to reach down and battle back against a player few people even knew until their thrilling drama unfolded on the back nine of Valhalla Golf Club.

When it was over, the legend grew.

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

''This was probably the most exciting one,'' Woods said. ''Usually, you can just kind of cruise in with pars and win. That wasn't going to be the case today.''

Both made five birdies, two sensational par saves and had a 31 on the back nine. Woods outlasted May by taking only three putts in the three-hole playoff, the last one a 2-foot par putt for his third consecutive major.

It was the easiest shot he had all afternoon.

''It was a memorable battle today, and I enjoyed it,'' Woods said. ''We never backed off from one another. Birdie for birdie, shot for shot, we were going right at each other. That's as good as it gets.''

It brought out a passion rarely seen from Woods. The steely determination in his eyes. The sweat pouring down the side of his face. The way he charged after putts as they fell into the cup, and pumped his fists like never before.

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 all four major championships, an 18-under 270 that allowed him to get into the playoff which he won by one stroke.

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 his third straight 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 a 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. Open and British Open 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 and looked as if he had a chance to finish him off on the 15th with a possible three-stroke lead with three holes left.

What followed, however, was a scene played out so many times before.

Woods was in trouble, facing a 12-foot putt to save par. May had 4 feet for birdie.

''I stepped up there and just buried it,'' Woods said.

May pulled his putt to the left, and Woods' caddie summed up the situation.

''Ball game's on, now,'' Steve Williams told him.

It was the first sign all day that May was starting to feel the Sunday strain of trying to win a major. May badly missed the next two fairways, but managed to gut it out and save par both times.

Woods hammered his drive 335 yards on No. 17. He pumped his fist when he saw the flight of the ball aiming for the center of the fairway, where it settled 94 yards short of the pin. His sand wedge spun back 4 feet for birdie.

For the first time since the 11th hole, he was tied with May.

Both players reached the green on the par-5 18th in two, but May's long eagle putt raced by the hole some 18 feet on the fringe. Down to his last chance, the putt broke two directions and fell into the cup on its last revolution.

Woods' turn.

His 6-foot birdie putt caught the left side and gently fell into the cup, and Woods let out a shout before slapping hands with his caddie. It was on to the playoff, where Woods delivered once again.

It wasn't easy, but the results were just the same.


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