Give Tiger Woods a lead, and tournament organizers may as well start engraving the trophy.
He doesn't flinch when the pressure is on. He doesn't get nervous. And he doesn't lose.
With his lead cut to one stroke Sunday, Woods responded by burying an 8-foot birdie putt. Though there were still 10 holes to play, that was all he needed to win his second Western Open title and regain his No. 1 spot in the world rankings.
Woods finished with a 1-under 71, giving him a 15-under 273 for the tournament at Cog Hill Golf and Country Club. It was his third PGA Tour victory this season and third in four starts, including a tournament in Germany.
"I love feeling the pressure, I love it," Woods, who won $450,000, said with a grin. "I was telling my Dad last night, `There's no better position than being up front.' Everyone is looking at you and you get all the pressure in the world. You can go nothing but down."
Mike Weir, who had three birdies on the first seven holes to threaten Woods, ran into trouble on the back nine. He bogeyed 10, 13 and 14 for a 70 and finished three strokes back at 276.
"It was a great experience for me," said Weir, who has never won a PGA Tour event. "It's my third time this year being in the final group, first time playing with Tiger in the final group."
| Woods' march up 18 wasn't the scene of two years ago. (AP)|
So, basically, he got a lesson in how to finish second. Woods, who had a 4-stroke lead after three rounds, has taken a lead into the final round of eight tournaments, and won all of them but one. The lone loss? The Quad City Classic in 1996, just a few weeks after he turned pro.
Even when Weir cut Woods' lead to one stroke, he wasn't nervous. While Weir was picking up strokes with birdies on Nos. 3 and 5, Woods bogeyed the par-4 No. 4 when he two-putted from 20 feet. He picked the stroke up on the next hole, barely missing a long eagle putt.
But then Weir made things interesting othe par-4 No. 7. Weir and Woods both drove the fairway on the 410-yard hole and were on the green with their second shots. Weir made a tough, 20-foot putt for his birdie, going 13-under for the tournament. Woods looked like he would match Weir, but his putt hit the cup and lipped out as Woods stared at it in disbelief. He tapped in for par, but his lead was down to one stroke.
He walked to the No. 8 tee with a grim look on his face, but these are the kinds of situations on which he thrives. After Weir drove the fairway on the right side, Woods put his drive on the left side.
His second shot was spectacular, just clearing a bunker on the right front edge of the green. The ball hit the bunker's top ridge, dropped and rolled to eight feet from the hole. After Weir narrowly missed a birdie putt from about 30 feet, Woods drained his putt for birdie and the two-stroke lead.
He knew the putt was good even before it went in, lifting up his putter and pumping his fist as the ball dropped. The crowd roared, and Woods turned, smiled and gave a little wave.
"It was an important hole," he said. "From a confidence standpoint, that really made me feel pretty good. I could answer his birdie with one of my own. And it maybe let him know that I wasn't going to back off."
Woods kept the pressure on the par-4 10th. After his drive hit the cart path, he flew the green with his second shot and landed in the gallery. But he hit a beautiful flop shot that rolled within two feet of the hole and made the putt for par.
| Playing in the last group with Woods should be good for Weir. (AP)|
Weir, meanwhile, misjudged the wind on his second shot, used the wrong club and found himself short in a bunker. He blasted out, but two-putted for a bogey.
"I made a really good putt that didn't go in," Weir said. "That's the way it goes."
Woods birdied Nos. 11 and 15 and came close again on the par-4 18th. His wedge shot from 128 yards out hit the green and rolled down and almost into the hole. But it lipped out and rolled off the green, and Woods chipped to within two feet from the pin.
The crowd was much calmer as Woods came up the 18th fairway than it was two years ago, when fans broke through security ropes and walked behind him. This time, he got a standing ovation, which he acknowledged with a few waves and tips of his baseball cap.
"To be honest, I don't think so because of the fact I was new to the scene," Woods said when asked if Tigermania could ever reach those heights again. "That's definitely ine with me."