Woods rallies late, matches Nicklaus with 73rd PGA title
Better yet was the timing of his 73rd win.
Woods tied Nicklaus for career PGA Tour victories at the tournament that Jack built. And the 14-time major champion suddenly looks equipped to resume his chase of another Nicklaus mark that is more significant—18 major championships.
The U.S. Open starts in 11 days.
With a chip-in that even Woods called one of the toughest shots he ever made, he birdied three of his last four holes to close with a 5-under 67 and turn a two-shot deficit into a two-shot victory over Rory Sabbatini and fast-closing Andres Romero.
Coming off a two-putt birdie on the 15th, Woods hit 8-iron over the green at the par-3 16th and into an impossible lie. It was buried in deep rough, the pin 50 feet away along a ridge. Woods hit a full flop shot, hopeful to give himself a reasonable putt for par. Far more likely was the ball going short and down a slope away from the pin, or coming out too strong and rolling into the water.
No one was thinking birdie, not even Woods, until he took two steps and delivered an uppercut when the ball fell in the right side of the cup.
Nicklaus was gushing from the broadcast booth. “The most unbelievable, gutsy shot I’ve ever seen,” he said.
“Under the circumstances—the circumstances being Tiger has been struggling—it was either fish or cut bait,” Nicklaus said later. “He had one place to land the ball. He’s playing a shot that if he leaves it short, he’s going to leave himself again a very difficult shot. If he hits it long, he’s going to probably lose the tournament. He lands the ball exactly where it has to land. Going in the hole was a bonus. But what a shot!
“I don’t think under the circumstances I’ve ever seen a better shot.”
Woods, who finished at
9-under 279, won the Memorial for the fifth time. At age 36, he is 10 years younger than Nicklaus when the Golden Bear won his 73rd tournament at the 1986 Masters. Sam Snead holds the PGA Tour record with 82 wins.
It was vintage Woods at Muirfield Village, the fifth course where he has won at least five times. And it was the perfect way for him to end his worst stretch as a pro. After winning at Bay Hill in March, he tied for 40th in the Masters, missed the cut at Quail Hollow and tied for 40th at The Players Championship.
Woods won for the second time this year and moved to No. 4 in the world.
This was more impressive than his five-shot win in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in March, when he had a one-shot lead going into the final round on a course where he could get by with par. The Memorial required much more work, especially when he had to go after birdies on the back nine.
And that’s what he did.
Woods reached the par-5 15th into the wind in two shots to set up a two-putt birdie and get within one shot of Sabbatini. But just like that, it looked as if his chances were over when his 8-iron bounded through the green and into a tough lie behind the green.
“I had to take a cut at it because the lie wasn’t as great,” he said. “I went for it. I pulled it off. And for it to land as soft as it did was kind of a surprise, because it was baked out and it was also running away from me. It just fell in. I didn’t think it was going to get there at one point.”
Sabbatini didn’t need to see it. He was on the 15th green, scrambling for par, when Muirfield Village shook with the loudest roar of the day.
“I knew something was going on up in front,” said Sabbatini, who shot 72. “I was really just trying to focus on my own game.”
The South African hit his tee shot into the right bunker on the 16th, then blasted out to just inside 15 feet and took bogey to fall one behind.
That was all Woods needed.
From the middle of the 18th fairway, Woods hit 9-iron to the perfect spot on the back of the green, where it caught the slope and rolled to just inside 10 feet for the final birdie of a masterful finish.
Spencer Levin, who had a one-shot lead going into the final round, closed with a 75.
Defending champion and Edgerton native Steve Stricker finished at 6 over after a final-round 76.
Last updated: 8:52 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012