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Love leads after 18 before Tiger surges

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- Davis Love III knew what was coming.

He had
Tiger Woods on the ropes for most of the 36-hole final in
the Match Play Championship. He was hitting the ball a little
longer and a lot straighter, setting up plenty of birdie chances.

"I had him right where I wanted him," Love said.

Any other week, it would have been good enough to win.

But the Match Play Championship is unlike any other tournament --
and Woods is unlike any other player.

It took Woods 25 holes to finally take the lead Sunday at La
Costa Resort, then two holes to bury Love's hopes and win for the
second straight year.

"It all boils down to what my dad always told me when it comes
to match play," Woods said. "All you have to do is just be better
than your opponent that day. All you have to do is win more holes
than you lose."

Even after he made it look so hard, Woods made it sound so
simple.

He turned a terrible drive into an unlikely birdie on the 25th
hole, punched a low shot into the wind that stopped 4 feet behind
the hole for another birdie to go 2-up, then won the 27th hole when
Love went from the rough to the fairway to a plugged lie in the
bunker, making bogey.

The rest was easy, and the result was 3 and 2.

"He's obviously the best at what he does," said Love, who
failed to win a hole over the final 17. "That shows even more in
match play. He can play the game no matter what rules you put out
there."

Woods won for the 40th time on the PGA Tour in just his 149th start, the quickest anyone has reached that milestone. Jack Nicklaus played 221 events before he won his 40th tournament.

He earned $1.2 million, the biggest prize to date on the PGA Tour, and reminded everyone who's No. 1 in the world -- and who's the best when the world gets together.

Woods won for the eighth time in the 14 official World Golf
Championships he has played.

Even more impressive are his back-to-back victories in the
Accenture Match Play Championship, the most unpredictable format in
golf because of the five 18-hole matches required to get to the
finals.

Woods thrives on this format.

"In stroke play, it takes you three days to get to a situation
where it's one-on-one, and it's rarely the same group on Sunday
afternoon," Woods said. "Here, from the first tee, it's
eyeball-to-eyeball. Let's go. Let's have some fun. Let's compete.
To me, that's exciting."

Woods made it even more of a thriller.

He twice took four shots to reach the green on par 4s in the
morning session as Love quickly seized control.

He led 2 up after a birdie on the 10th, and again built a 2-up
lead when he stuffed an 8-iron into 2 feet on the 16th and holed a
25-foot putt on the next hole.

But the 18th hole turned everything round.

Woods reached the 558-yard hole in two shots and made birdie,
while Love hit into a bunker, blasted out to 8 feet and missed the
cut -- his third birdie putt inside 10 feet that he failed to make.

"I just let him get away when I had him," Love said.

Along with some momentum, Woods got enough time on the range to
figure out his problem. He hit 30 balls with his driver, figured
out his alignment problems on the third one and found enough
fairways to put pressure on Love.

"He started making (putts) and hitting fairways," Love said.
"That's a bad combination."

Making it even harder on Love was a heckler.

The man let out a 'Whoop!" when Love missed a par putt on the
20th hole that squared the match. As Love stepped up to his ball on
the fifth tee, the man started saying, "No Love."

Love sought out the fan and said, "We're not leaving until he's
out of here."

They got the fan out of there -- and it wasn't long before Woods
took Love out of the match.

Woods shoved his drive into the rough on No. 7, the 25th hole of
the match, and figured he would be lucky to get his ball anywhere
on the green. He had a tree in front of him, but enough of a gap
between branches to get the ball in the air and headed toward the
green.

It landed softly, and stopped 12 feet behind the hole.

Love's approach went over the green, and his chip stopped in the
first cut. He chipped again for a conceded bogey, but Love already
knew the score.

"He was going to make the putt whether I made the cup or not,"
Love said.

What hurt Love was the par 5s, and several putts that could've
changed everything.

"I just didn't finish off holes when I had a chance," he said.

That usually spells trouble in match play. Against Woods, it
becomes even more of a problem.

Woods' amateur record was among the best ever -- three straight
U.S. Junior Amateurs, followed by three straight U.S. Amateur
titles. His professional record is starting to catch up.

Woods is 20-3 in this tournament, and 30-5-1 overall in match
play.

"He's an incredible match-play player," Love said. "He proved
that in U.S. Amateurs, U.S. Juniors, and I saw it in the Ryder Cup.
And I hope to see it again in the Ryder Cup."

That might be the one time the sight of Woods in match play is
comforting -- when he's on your team.

Divots
Darren Clarke defeated Stephen Leaney, 2 up, in the consolation match. ... The week wasn't a total loss for Phil Mickelson, beaten in the quarterfinals. It was good enough for him to win the West Coast Swing and earn a $500,000 bonus.