- The Washington Times - Monday, July 6, 2009

Call it a capital conquest.

Tiger Woods etched his name on his own tournament trophy Sunday, leaving spike marks on protege Anthony Kim and overcoming a record-matching salvo from Hunter Mahan to win the third edition of the AT&T National at Congressional Country Club.

“This was a dream of mine to have my own event and win it,” said Woods, who finished with a 13-under 267 to notch his 68th PGA Tour victory by a stroke over Mahan. “It was long week, but I got the ‘W.’ ”

Woods began the day deadlocked with Kim at 10 under, and the matchup between the world No. 1 and the blossoming star galvanized galleries on the property like no single pairing in D.C. golf history.

It was as if there were only one twosome present on the 7,255-yard, par-70 course. A massive one-group gallery dwarfing anything witnessed at the 1997 U.S. Open stood 10-deep from tee-to-green on every hole the duo played.

Was this history in the making? Woods and Kim had never been paired together before in an event, much less in the final pairing of the final round. And this was a chance for the 24-year-old defending champion to show whether he had the game and moxie to stand up to his idol under the intense combination of stress and scrutiny.

Nope.

It would be unkind to label the showdown a dud, but Kim showed he isn’t quite ready to tangle with Tiger. Kim’s lone true highlight came at No. 1, where he nearly holed out from the fairway for eagle to move ahead of golf’s leviathan at 11 under. The rest of his meandering, closing 71 is best forgotten; the uber-aggressive Kim fought a nasty case of the dead-pulls off the tee and missed five putts under six feet en route to a third-place finish at 9-under 271.

“I struggled out there with my swing and never really got into a rhythm,” a dejected Kim said after his long-awaited date with destiny turned into a mini-nightmare. “But the bottom line is you have to make putts, and I didn’t make any.”

While Kim slowly slid down the leader board, Woods marched steadily around the front nine, posting birdies at Nos. 6 and 7 to go out in 33 and then adding a bomb at the par-3 10th to reach 13 under. At that point, Woods held a three-stroke lead on Mahan and Kim, and yet another Woods rout looked like a foregone conclusion.

But playing nearly 90 minutes and six holes ahead, Mahan was determined to write a different ending to the AT&T’s perfect script. After starting the day in seemingly benign position at 4 under, Mahan torched Old Blue’s tucked Sunday pins and firmer greens for nine birdies and a course-record-matching 62.

“What Hunter did today was pretty impressive,” Woods said. “I certainly didn’t see that score out there.”

When Mahan jarred 15-foot birdie putts on Nos. 17 and 18 to match Kim’s historic Thursday burst and Woods stumbled yet again on Congressional’s wicked, 489-yard 11th, the two suddenly were sharing the lead at 12 under.

Mahan retired to the players’ dining room to watch Woods finish. And Woods, as he has done 46 previous times in 49 opportunities with the 54-hole lead, summoned the stuff to close the tournament.

“I think everybody was watching Anthony and Tiger, so I knew I had to go low,” said Mahan, whose lone victory at the 2007 Travelers belies his status as an emerging elite player. “Afterward, I grabbed something to eat and was watching the telecast with Elin and Sam [Woods]. Honestly, I expected Tiger to get to 14 or even 15 under. He’s pretty good.”

Woods knew it would take only 13 under and thus bided his time until he reached the par-5 16th, a 579-yard hole easily reachable in two for most of the field, much less the planet’s best player.

After his drive found the left rough, Woods hit a 5-wood nearly pin-high to just off the right edge of the green, leaving him a perfect angle to attack the back-left pin. But his pitch from the rough came up well short, leaving him a testy 20-footer on Congressional’s last real birdie hole.

Just as he prepared to strike what would be the event’s key putt, a cameraman on his line clicked away behind the green, causing Woods to blurt out “Seriously!” and back off the critical putt. He instantly regained his composure and rammed home what he and everybody else seemed to know would be the winning putt.

“That was a big putt,” deadpanned Woods, who is just five victories behind second-place Jack Nicklaus on the career wins list. “I backed off because a guy was taking a picture there. I refocused and drilled it in the left center of the cup.”

Woods then plotted his way to the clubhouse and the trophy with matching pairs of conservative 3-woods, safe approaches and lag-putt pars.

Asked afterward whether he felt he intimidated Kim in their first meeting, Woods joked: “Yeah, because I’m 6-foot-5 and 250 [pounds]. … No, I told him [walking down the 18th hole] to keeping working hard, and we’ll do it again and again for many years to come.”

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