AMERICAN EXPRESS CHAMPIONSHIP
Woods extends lead to 6
Published: Sunday, October 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, October 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
CHANDLER'S CROSS, England - Tiger Woods was alone on the far end of the practice green at The Grove as this small village north of London lost the last of its light Saturday, his competition already gone in more ways than one.
He rapped three putts at a time, exasperated as each one slid by the cup, listening to coach Hank Haney offer quiet instruction as some 500 fans stood six-deep behind the railing to watch Woods try to fix a balky putting stroke.
And this was after he made eagle on the final hole to stretch his lead to six shots in the American Express Championship.
"The guy never ceases to amaze me," caddie Steve Williams said.
Despite missing a half-dozen putts inside 12 feet, Woods holed a 35-foot eagle putt on the 18th hole for a 4-under 67 that demoralized the 60-man field at this World Golf Championship and left him one round away from his sixth consecutive PGA Tour victory.
Woods finished at 19-under 194, putting him six shots clear of Adam Scott, who had a bogey-free 65.
Jim Furyk played with Woods in a far different capacity than a week ago in the Ryder Cup. They were partners all three days of practice at The K Club and in all four team matches, but competitors at The Grove. Furyk made 16 pars and two birdies for a 69, but wound up losing ground and finished seven shots behind.
And it could have been an even bigger gap.
"I hit it far better than I did the first two days and made absolutely nothing," Woods said. "It was a struggle on the greens all day. I kept telling myself, 'Just keep hanging in there.' I had two par 5s to play, and if I could play the par 5s and 2 under par, I'd be just fine. I actually did one better."
He needed a little luck. His tee shot on the 567-yard closing hole went to the left, about a yard from the gallery ropes. But because fans have been leaning into the rope all week to get a better view, the 6-inch grass was tamped down toward the green, giving Woods a perfect lie. With a slight breeze helping, he hit 5-wood from 283 yards that hopped onto the front of the green.
He even hit that putt with the wrong speed, expecting it go 6 feet by until the cup got in the way.
"To putt not very good today and still increase my lead is a pretty good feeling," Woods said.
Scott played his best round of the week, picking up birdies on an afternoon with thunder on the horizon and sudden shifts in the temperature as storm fronts passed by.
He was four shots behind when he finished, and sensed a chance.
"At the moment, I've made up a few shots," Scott said. "Hopefully, it will stay where it is right now, and you never know. There might be a chance to run him down tomorrow."
A short time later, the lead looked daunting.
Scott won his first tournament of the year three weeks ago at the Singapore Open, beating Ernie Els in a playoff after the final round was cut short to nine holes.
"It was a bit of a thrill for me to beat Ernie, who's a good friend and a guy I've looked up to for a lot of years," Scott said. "But to beat Tiger down the stretch at a World Golf Championship is a whole different story. Anyone who beats Tiger coming from behind is obviously a bit of a legend."
That might be stretching it - Ed Fiori is on that list - but it is rare.
Woods is 37-3 on the PGA Tour (43-5 worldwide) when he has at least a share of the lead going into the final round. He has never lost when the lead has been more than one shot. The odds are so much in his favor that one of the British bookmakers listed him at 1-125 to take home his eighth PGA Tour victory of the year on Sunday.
For the longest time, it appeared as though this tournament might get interesting.
Woods had gone 53 consecutive holes on the PGA Tour without missing a putt inside 10 feet, a streak that ended on the first hole Saturday when he badly missed a 6-foot birdie. He missed a birdie putt from the same distance on the par-5 second, and an 8-foot attempt on the sixth also slid by on the right.
Someone suggested that Williams, who fumbled Woods' 9-iron into the water on the last day of the Ryder Cup, would have been better off losing the putter to the River Liffey at The K Club.
"I wanted to do a lot of things to that putter today after about six holes," Woods said. "I was hitting the ball so well. I just had to keep giving myself chances. I can't miss them all. I almost did, but I can't miss them all."
David Howell was the first player to make a move, closing within two shots as he made the turn. But he failed to keep pace, and his birdie at No. 10 was his last of the day. Howell played the final eight holes with five pars and three bogeys to tumble out of contention with a 71, leaving him nine shots behind.
"He's stretched away from us again," Howell said.
Coming off a three-putt bogey from 35 feet at No. 8, Woods belted a tee shot, hit wedge to 10 feet and made the birdie putt on the ninth hole. Then he missed another 6-footer for birdie, tossing momentum aside.
But it all changed on the final four holes, with a pitch to 2 feet for birdie on the par-5 16th, and the 35-foot eagle on the 18th, the third straight round he has made eagle on that hole.
Woods' winning streak ended two weeks ago at Wentworth when he lost in the first round to Shaun Micheel at the World Match Play Championship, but the PGA Tour streak is alive.
So is his dominance in the World Golf Championships. A victory Sunday would make him 12-of-22 in the official WGC events.
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