Published: Monday, January 29, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 29, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.
SAN DIEGO — Tiger Woods resumed his improbable pursuit of Byron Nelson with a result that was all too predictable.
Woods caught up to the pack with an eagle, buried the hopes of his final challenger with a birdie and closed with a 6-under 66 on Sunday to win the Buick Invitational for his seventh consecutive PGA Tour victory, the second-longest streak in history.
Nelson set the record in 1945 with 11 in a row, a record long thought to be out of reach.
The way Woods is playing — no worse than second in stroke play anywhere in the world since July — that might no longer be the case.
Woods won six in a row in 2000, a streak that Phil Mickelson stopped at Torrey Pines. But against a cast of challengers short on experience and victories, the world's No. 1 player met little resistance in winning the Buick Invitational for the third straight year.
Woods doesn't consider this a true winning streak because he lost once in Europe and twice in Asia since September. But it still counts in the PGA Tour record books, and the only question is when it will resume.
Woods was headed for the Dubai Desert Classic on Sunday night, and he was not sure if would play his next PGA Tour event at the Nissan Open on Feb. 15 in Los Angeles or the Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona a week later.
"To somehow sneak out with the win is a cool feeling," Woods said.
He got some help from Andrew Buckle and Jeff Quinney, both of whom had at least a share of the lead on the back nine until stumbling in a span of about 15 minutes on a cool, breezy afternoon at Torrey Pines.
Charles Howell III provide the final challenge with three birdies in a four-hole stretch, but Woods answered with an approach to 2 feet on the 17th hole for birdie that allowed him to play it safe on the par-5 closing hole.
Woods finished at 15-under 273 for his 55th career victory, the fifth time he has started a new season with a trophy.
Howell had a 50-foot eagle putt on the 18th that could have forced a playoff, but he played it too high over the ridge and wound up three-putting for par to close with 68.
"I gave him a run," Howell said. "Anytime you try to win a tournament against that guy, it's tough. I played well down the stretch. He just never flinched."
The same couldn't be said for Buckle and Quinney, who each took double bogey along the back nine on the South Course to quickly take themselves out of contention. Brandt Snedeker, tied for the 54-hole lead with Buckle, closed with a 71 and finished third.
Woods' streak resumed after a nearly four-month break from the PGA Tour, when he won by eight shots in the American Express Championship outside London on Oct. 1. He skipped the season-ending Tour Championship and the season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship, and learned that his wife was pregnant for the first time.
One thing that hasn't changed is his golf.
The PGA Tour winning streak dates to his victory in the British Open last July, and Woods is now 124-under par during that stretch.
This win looked like so many others, especially at Torrey Pines. Part of it was due to him, most of it was due to the guys falling apart down the stretch.
Buckle held it together for the longest time.
Woods erased a two-shot deficit in four holes, but the 24-year-old Australian bounced back with an approach into 6 feet for birdie on No. 5, and nearly reaching the par-5 sixth green from the right rough to set up a simple up-and-down birdie and a two-shot lead. And even after a roar that resonated across the course, Buckle didn't blink.
Woods hammered a 3-wood from the ninth fairway to 25 feet and holed the putt for eagle and a share of the lead. Buckle was walking up the ninth fairway to his tee shot, calmly taking a drag from a cigarette. He looked up when he heard the cheer, flicked the cigarette to the ground and stomped it out, then birdied the next two holes.
He still had a two-shot lead over Woods and Quinney when he reached the 12th tee, but his tee shot caught a corner of grass on the edge of a fairway bunker, and that's when everything collapsed.
Buckle's feet slipped in the sand as he struck the ball, which sailed well to the right and left him little green between a bunker and the flag. Attempting a flop shot to give himself a short putt at par, it came out too strong and tumbled over the green on the other side. He pitched to 4 feet and missed the putt, taking double bogey.
Woods took the lead for the first time with a 65-foot eagle putt that curled around the back of the cup and came an inch within falling, while Buckle against chopped around the rough and had to save par. Two holes later, Buckle was up to his ankles in ice plant and his chances were sliding over the cliffs lining the Pacific.
Quinney also disappeared, trying to play a perfect bunker shot that came up short and led to double bogey on the 14th.
As quickly as those two contenders vanished, Howell emerged.
He made the only birdie of the final round on the 477-yard 12th hole, followed that with a two-putt birdie on the 13th, then nearly holed out an 8-iron on the 15th, the ball grazing the edge of the cup. That pulled him to within one shot of the lead. He had the momentum. He was due to have something good come his way.
But he was playing with a guy for whom little goes wrong.
Woods, who saved par from the bunker on the 14th and 15th hole, hit his approach from 143 yards into 30 inches on the 17th hole, effectively ending the tournament.
Fred Funk had the most-lopsided victory ever in a 54-hole Champions Tour event, shooting his second straight 8-under 64 for an 11-stroke win in the Turtle Bay Championship in Kahuku, Hawaii.
The 50-year-old Funk, still a regular on the PGA Tour, ended the suspense early with six birdies in a front-nine 30 and finished with a tournament record 23-under 193 total in the tour's first full-field event of the year.
Funk earned $240,000 for his second Champions Tour victory in five career starts. He also won the AT&T Championship, the last full-field event in the 2006 season.
Tom Kite went double bogey-bogey on the last two holes to close with a 71, dropping him into a five-way tie for second at 12 under with 2006 winner Loren Roberts (66), Tom Purtzer (66), Denis Watson (68) and Kiyoshi Murota (72).
South African star Retief Goosen won for the Qatar Masters, eagling the final hole for a 3-under 69 and a one-stroke victory over Nick O'Hern.
Goosen finished with a 15-under 273 total for his 32nd international victory.
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