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Woods Fights For PGA Victory


The only thing that belonged to Tiger Woods was what mattered most the PGA Championship.

Everything else seemed to be the property of 19-year-old Sergio Garcia, who stole the show at Medinah Country Club on Sunday and almost robbed Woods of another major.

"To come out of it on top took everything out of me," Woods said after his one-stroke victory, which he punctuated not with a mighty pump of the fist but rather a massive sigh of relief. "I just tried to hold him off and did the best I could."

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Woods, 23, became the youngest player since Seve Ballesteros in 1980 to win two majors. After three straight times in contention at a major this year, he finally came through in unexpected fashion watching a five-stroke lead shrink to one, then making a crucial par save on the 17th hole.

Garcia blasts away from behind a tree at 16 -- and reaches the green. <b>
Woods escapes trouble early in the final round. (AP)

Woods made a routine two-putt for par on 18 for an even-par 72 to finish at 11-under 277. Garcia had two birdie chances on the last two holes, but missed both.

"Almost," Garcia said. "I can only tell you it was the best week of my life. I've never had so much fun playing golf."

Already a year of one dramatic major championship after another, Woods and Garcia may have provided the best show of all if only because it sends golf into 2000 and beyond with the chance for a real rivalry.

David Duval was an afterthought, and so was all the flap over Ryder Cup revenues.

On center stage Sunday were the two youngest players in the field and maybe the most dynamic in the game.

The pumping fists of Woods. The sprinting, leaping, smiling, hat-tipping Garcia. And enough incredible shots to leave the gallery breathless even a gallery that spent years watching local superstar Michael Jordan.

"SER-GI-O! SER-GI-O!"

The chants rained down from the grandstand on the 18th.

"It looks like they love me," said Garcia, the youngest player in the PGA Championship since Gene Sarazen in 1921. "I said when I turned pro I wanted to be the No. 1 golfer in the world. So I knew I would be a rival for Tiger."

He nearly upstaged him.

"I knew the crowd was changing when I heard, `Hope you don't slice it in the water' on No. 17," Woods said. "I didn't think that was fair."

Wood, a picture of purpose from the time he set foot on the first tee, took the lead with a 15-foot birdie on the second hole and built it to five strokes with another birdie on the 11th.

And then came a swift, shocking turn of events that unfolded in an area of 250 yards, the distance between the 12th and 13th greens.

Garcia ripped a shot right at the flag on the 219-yard 13th, skipping down the tee box like he fully expected it to go in, as though it were a 15-foot putt. The ball sailed over the flag and stopped 15 feet above the hole.

Back on the 12th, Woods made his first bogey of the day by three-putting from about 60 feet. He arrived on the 13th tee just in time to see Garcia throw down the gauntlet. Garcia hit a decisive putt that rammed into the back of the cup.

Then came the stare.

With cockiness and defiance, Garcia looked back at the tee toward Woods as if to say, "Take that."

Woods took a double dose of it even though he said he didn't see the stare or the tip of the hat.

"I saw him make the putt and I turned away. I knew what I had to do," Woods said.

Hitting a 6-iron over the green wasn't it.

The ball landed in rough so thick that when he chopped it out, it screamed down the slope into more rough. He chipped that one 6 feet above the hole and missed the putt to take double bogey.

Garcia dropped a crucial shot on the 15th when he drove into the trees, missed the green and failed to save par with a 10-foot putt.

But he stayed in the game with his eyes wide shut a heroic shot that would have made Ballesteros, his countryman and mentor, beam with pride.

His 3-wood off the 16th tee rolled through the fairway and up against one of the 4,161 trees across Medinah. The safe play the healthy play would have been a chip back to the fairway.

Not for Garcia.

His favorite slogan is "Suerte o Muerte," which translates literally to "luck or death." The loose definition is to go for broke with the reckless, fearless play that describes his game.

Garcia ripped at it with a 6-iron, closing his eyes and turning his head. Then, in a wonderful display of a teen-ager's enthusiasm, he sprinted up the fairway, leaping like a gymnast in a floor exercise and patting his heart as a thunderous cheer told the story. He was on the green, and he bagged an improbable par with a two-putt from 60 feet.

It wasn't enough to win, but it was enough to keep everyone from conceding the future of golf only to Woods, much like what happened after his runaway victory in the Masters.

Woods' victory at Medinah Country Club, worth $630,000, returned him to No. 1 in the world rankings.

"I couldn't come in the clubhouse the way I wanted to," Woods said. "Sergio was playing well. He has a tremendous amount of fight. You can see it the way he plays, just the way he walks around the golf course."

Jay Haas had a 70 and Stewart Cink a 73 to tie for third at 280. Mike Weir, who started the final round tied with Woods, shot an 80 and finished eight strokes back.

It wasn't as impressive as Augusta in 1997, but Woods is still on top of the world.

It was his fourth victory in seven tournaments since April 18, and it was his seventh finish in the top 10 in only 12 majors as a professional. He also won for the third time in Chicago, the city where Jordan, his good friend, has ruled in the '90s.

Ryder Cup drama also unfolded.

Garcia blasts away from behind a tree at 16 -- and reaches the green. <b>
Garcia blasts away from behind a tree at 16 -- and reaches the green. (AP)

In the last tournament for American players to earn points, Bob Estes birdied four of the first five holes on the back nine and at one point held fourth place alone he needed a two-way tie for fifth to move into the top 10.

But Estes missed short par putts on the 16th and 17th and finished with a 69, tied for sixth with Colin Montgomerie and moved up only to 11th in the standings.

Ben Crenshaw will announce his two captain's picks Monday morning.

Garcia, meanwhile, secured a spot on Europe's team and will be the youngest player ever in the Ryder Cup. He may get another crack at Woods, in what could be the first of several showdowns in the years to come.

©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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