SAN DIEGO -- Tiger Woods joined some elite company Sunday,
even though he might as well have been playing alone.
He thrilled the four-deep gallery with an improbable flop shot
from the muck of trampled grass behind the ninth green to save par.
He sent Torrey Pines into delirium with a 60-foot birdie putt that
started in one direction and slid into the cup from the other. He
made three straight bogeys on the back nine, a rarity for him when
he's in the lead.
And none of it mattered.
The outcome was never in doubt at the Buick Invitational, only
the final score.
A 10-foot birdie on the 18th gave Woods a 1-under 71 and an
eight-shot victory, the ninth time in his career that he has won by
at least that many. It earned him a fourth straight title at Torrey
Pines, a third straight PGA Tour victory and congratulations from
It was his 62nd career victory, tying him with Arnold Palmer for
fourth place on the tour list.
"I'm sure that there are many, many more coming in the
future," Palmer said. "There isn't any question about that."
He won't get an argument from Woods. Having won for the fifth
time in his last six starts on the PGA Tour, Woods said he was at
another level -- even better than 2000 -- and still had room for
Better than 2000, when he won nine times and three straight
"Yeah," Woods said without hesitation.
Woods finished at 19-under 269 to win the Buick Invitational for
the fourth consecutive year, tying a PGA Tour record for
consecutive wins in a single tournament. Woods is the only player
to own such a streak at two events, having also won four in a row
at Bay Hill.
He won for the fifth time in his last six starts. Throw in his
Target World Challenge at the end of the year, and Woods has won
his last three tournaments by a combined 23 shots.
"I'm starting to get better," he said. "I'm hitting shots
that I never could hit before, even in 2000. People think, 'Yeah,
you played great.' But I made everything. I'm actually hitting the
ball better now than I did during that stretch."
Ryuji Imada won the B-flight. He matched the best score of the
final round with a 67 and was the runner-up.
"My goal going into today was to finish second," Imada said.
"That's almost like winning the golf tournament to me."
Woods returns to Torrey Pines in June for the U.S. Open, and if
this week was any indication, it could be another long week for his
peers. The world's No. 1 player now has won six times as a pro at
Torrey Pines, and his comment earlier this month that the Grand
Slam is "easily within reason" looked every bit of that.
"What he's going to do is screw the U.S. Open up for everyone
else," Fred Couples said. "If he had shot 10 or 11 under, the
USGA would have said, 'Well, maybe we have it in the right spot.'
Now, they may have to regroup a little."
Then again, it might not matter.
The 71 ended Woods' streak of 14 consecutive rounds in the 60s,
dating to the second round of the Deutsche Bank Championship. He
has finished no worse than second since the British Open in July,
when he tied for 12th at Carnoustie.
Woods planned to leave Sunday night for the Dubai Desert
Classic, and he likely won't return to the PGA Tour until the end
of February at the Accenture Match Play Championship. Next in line
on the career list is Ben Hogan with 64 victories, and each win
moves Woods closer to the record 82 won by Sam Snead.
"You'd like to think it's surprising, but it's not," Charles Howell III said. "It's Tiger."
Woods is 6-of-12 in his PGA Tour debuts, but he has never won
with such ease. He went back to work after the holidays, and it was
as if last year never ended.
It was a powerful message to the rest of the PGA Tour, even if
it was unintentional.
"They can look at it however they want to look at it," Woods
said. "I know that I'm trying to win and trying to improve and
trying to get better."
The only surprise was the weather, a pleasant one at that.
The forecast was for heavy rain overnight and into Sunday, with
the possibility of a Monday finish. But the clouds cleared as Woods
was warming up, and he played the front nine under brilliant blue
skies. Only on the back nine did clouds return and temperatures
plunge. He closed out his victory under a mixture of rain and
clouds, and smile that showed all was right in his world.
"He's just much better," said Couples, who posted his first
top-10 finish since the 2006 Masters. "It's fun to see. I've been
on tour for 28 years, and I've never seen this stuff."
"I'd say this is the best I've seen him play," Cink said.
"The last couple days, off the tee, the control he had was just
really very impressive. The Tiger that we saw a year and two years
ago, hitting it sort of all over the place, I think that's a thing
of the past. He's got it geared down and he came out and played
Justin Leonard closed with a 72 to finish alone in fifth, 12
shots behind. Phil Mickelson also made his 2008 debut this week,
but was slowed by illness and was never a factor. He shot 71 on
Sunday and tied for sixth with Durant (75).
"Nobody thought too much about winning," Mickelson said.
Woods won in California for the 12th time, the most of any
state. Florida is second with 10 victories. ... Kevin Streelman,
who played in the final group Saturday as the final alternate to
get in the Buick Invitational, went 75-77 on the weekend and tied
for 29th. ... Only seven players broke par in the final round. ...
Woods has won six times each at the Buick Invitational, Bridgestone
Invitational and the CA Championship, the latter two World Golf