- The Washington Times - Monday, June 4, 2001

DUBLIN, Ohio Any chance Paul Azinger had of beating Tiger Woods had long since faded as the two walked together down the soggy 17th fairway. There wasn't much to talk about, but something still needed to be said.

Azinger had entered the final round of the Memorial Tournament with the lead but was now seven shots behind. Now, he thought Woods looked almost bored as he romped to his third straight Memorial win.

"I'm sorry I wasn't a better player for you today," Azinger told Woods.

He needn't have apologized. The sorry thing for Azinger is that it probably didn't make any difference.

An era of dominance not seen in recent history continued yesterday in a tournament founded by the game's previous greatest player as Woods powered his way to a seven-stroke win over Azinger and Sergio Garcia.

Even host Jack Nicklaus watched in awe as Woods came from a shot behind with a final-round 66 in a tournament that was all but over by the time the leaders headed toward the back nine.

"Certainly since I've been playing the sport I've never found anyone who dominated more," Nicklaus said. "In other sports guys have dominated, but I don't think anyone has dominated like he has."

Azinger went even further.

"I would say he's probably the most dominant athlete in the history of sports," Azinger said.

That may be open for debate, but Woods' greatness at the relatively tender age of 25 is not.

Winning for the fourth time on the PGA Tour this year and 28th time since turning pro less than five years ago, Woods added to a legend that seems to grow by the week with a brilliant 2-iron on the fifth hole that stunned his playing partners and turned the tournament around.

After that it came easy in his final tuneup for the U.S. Open at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla., where he will go in as a prohibitive favorite for an unthinkable fifth consecutive major championship.

"Not too much amazes me anymore, but it's still amazing," Nicklaus said.

Woods played 22 holes in 7 under on a day when he had to finish a suspended third round and then go out and chase Azinger's 1-shot advantage in the final round.

It didn't take long, not with the 2-iron that flew high 249 yards over land and water before dropping softly on the 5th green and leaving Woods only a 4-foot uphill putt for eagle.

"A moon shot" is how Azinger described it.

Even Woods was impressed.

"I'm amazed by some of the shots I was able to pull off this week," Woods said. "If I wanted to step up there and hit a 2-iron 250 yards in the air and I was able to do it, I did it consistently. That, to me, is kind of cool."

What was really cool, though, was the methodical and precise way with which Woods made his way around Muirfield Village Golf Club, while his opponents were hitting shots into the water, missing key putts and whiffing chips.

Woods dominated on the par-5s, where he was 14 under for the week and with his length able to get on in two even when his opponents had no chance.

"I put myself in a position to win. That always gives you confidence knowing you have done it in the past," Woods said.

Woods made only one bogey, from a greenside bunker on No. 8, and when he finally did hit a wayward shot off the tee on 14 it hit a tree branch and popped out into the light rough. Woods promptly went on to birdie the hole.

Azinger was leading by one on the par-5, 527-yard 5th but had just put a 3-wood into the water fronting the green when Woods stood in the middle of the fairway and hit the shot that nestled gently near the flag.

The large crowd had been relatively subdued to that point but erupted when Woods hit the shot and then again a few minutes later when he made the eagle putt to take the lead for good.

"After Paul hit his shot I needed to get the ball on dry land," Woods said. "I was lucky enough to make 3."

Azinger bogeyed the hole and the next, and by the time Woods tapped in a short birdie putt on the par-5 7th he had a three-shot lead over Azinger and Stuart Appleby. It never got any closer.

"He was able to coast on in," Azinger said.

Azinger finished with a 2-over 74, while Garcia had a final-round 71. Appleby, who played with Woods in the final group and was only two shots back at one point, shot a 74 that included a quadruple bogey on the 12th hole.

The day had started on a more promising note for Azinger, who returned to play the final four holes of a third round that was suspended because of darkness the night before.

Azinger, who woke up with a two-shot lead, still had a one-shot advantage when the leaders returned for an early afternoon tee time for the final round after finishing off a third-round 69. He promptly birdied No. 1 to make it a two-shot advantage and was still ahead by a shot before the decisive 5th.

Garcia, meanwhile, began his day by 3-putting the eagle chance he had on the suspended 15th hole and was never a factor.

Woods became the first player to win the same tournament three years in a row since Tom Watson won three straight Byron Nelson Classics from 1978 to 1980.

That streak will look good in the record books, but it pales next to the four consecutive major tournaments that Woods has won beginning with last year's U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

Trying to catch him isn't only tough, it's nearly impossible. And it doesn't figure to get any better at Southern Hills.

"It's like trying to make an unmakeable putt," Garcia said.

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