- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 27, 2008

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Break out the umbrellas for rain, and the white flags for Tiger Woods.

Winning the Buick Invitational became a matter of when — not who — after Woods put on a clinic yesterday by hitting 17 greens in regulation, building an eight-shot lead and hoping he doesn’t have to wait until tomorrow to collect a fourth straight title at Torrey Pines.

“I’m in second place. I’m not really in contention,” Stewart Cink conceded. “He’s just hard to beat right now.”

Woods finished off a 6-under 66 with a tap-in birdie on the par-5 18th, where his 3-iron landed on the bank guarding a pond but stopped short of going into the water. That put him at 18-under 198, tying the 54-hole tournament record set by Woody Blackburn in 1985.

Cink made a 35-foot eagle on the final hole to trim the lead to eight.

Woods shattered the Buick Invitational record for the largest 54-hole lead (five shots), and it was the largest on the PGA Tour since Phil Mickelson led by eight shots at the BellSouth Classic in 2006.

This is a course Woods loves, but he has never dominated like this at Torrey Pines. Two years ago, he was in an eight-way tie for the lead with six holes to play. Last year, he had to rally from two shots behind in the final round.

“A lot more enjoyable,” Woods said of his margin. “I’d like to have the biggest lead you can possibly have. You’ve still got to go out there and play well and post a number. Whether that takes us tomorrow or into Monday, I still need to go out there and hit good shots. You don’t ever want to give guys a chance by playing poorly.”

Joe Durant was among the deflated, having posted a 67 on the tough South Course only to lose ground. He was at 9-under 207, and when someone asked if the tour should have a mercy rule, Durant could only laugh.

“If there was ever a week for it, this might be it,” Durant said.

Mercy might come from Mother Nature. Sunshine gave way to clouds late in the day, and the forecast for today was for heavy rain that could wash out the final round. Players would have to return tomorrow if the course conditions and forecast allow.

PGA Tour tournament director Mark Russell said Woods with an eight-shot lead would have no bearing on the decision.

“There’s no mercy rule,” he said. “We’re not playing Little League baseball. We’ll see what happens. We might get lucky.”

Everyone else might need much more than luck.

Woods has never lost a tournament when leading by more than one shot, let alone eight. And it became clear as he kept piling up birdies, and stretching his streak to 38 holes without a bogey, that there were two tournaments being played at Torrey Pines.

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