- The Washington Times - Monday, September 23, 2002

THOMASTOWN, Ireland (AP) Tiger Woods got a bigger fight than he expected yesterday, then a real surprise at the end his first and only bogey of an otherwise flawless victory in the American Express Championship.
"That last hole did get me," Woods said.
It was about the only thing that did during a week in which his worst round was a 67. Woods went 51 consecutive holes with nothing worse than a 4 on his scorecard, and he claimed his fifth World Golf Championship event.
But it wasn't easy.
Woods had a five-stroke lead going into the final round, closed with a 6-under 66 and still had to hit his best shot of the week a wedge from deep, gnarly rough for a birdie on the 17th hole to stave off a spectacular charge by Retief Goosen.
Goosen played six holes in 6-under, including a 6-foot eagle putt on the 17th hole to get within one shot, and he had a career-best 62 to finish second.
"That is one of the best rounds I've played," Goosen said.
Woods finished at 25-under 263 for a one-stroke victory, matching his best score in relation to par in a 72-hole tournament.
It was also one of his most consistent tournaments striking the ball, a good sign with the Ryder Cup only five days away. Woods caused a stir earlier this week when he said he would rather win the this tournament and its $1million prize than the Ryder Cup.
What he really wanted was his first tournament without a bogey. With victory all but assured when his tee shot found the fairway on the 18th hole, it looked as though nothing could stop him.
Click.
A photographer snapped a picture as Woods stood over his 4-iron, facing a 237-yard shot to a green guarded by sand and water. He backed off, glared at the photographer, then pushed his approach into the right rough. He chipped to 3 feet but missed the par putt.
"The most important shot of the entire week and he gets a happy finger," Woods said. "It just threw my focus off. I never got it all the way back to where it should have been. I'm hot at him, yes. I'm also hot for blocking that putt."
The anger didn't last long.
With his fifth PGA Tour victory this year, and sixth worldwide, Woods became the first player since Arnold Palmer (1960-63) to go four straight years with at least five tour victories.
In his last four tournaments, Woods has won twice, finished second at the PGA Championship and was fourth at the NEC Invitational, another World Golf Championship.
"I can't win every tournament, but as long as I'm there with a chance on the back nine on Sunday, that's where you want to be," Woods said. "I've won my share this year."
The conditions at Mount Juliet were so pristine especially the smooth greens that Woods figured someone might make a run at him.
Vijay Singh had a 65 to finish third at 267, while David Toms and Jerry Kelly each had a 66 to finish another stroke behind. Sergio Garcia had a 62.
The real move came from Goosen, whose birdie-birdie-eagle run produced cheers that Woods couldn't ignore especially when the former U.S. Open champion hit a 3-iron under and around a tree to 6 feet on the par-5 17th.
"That roar was a little louder than it normally would have been, so you figured it had to be Goose," Woods said. "And we were on the tee when he buried the putt."
The eagle brought Goosen within one stroke, and he had a 22-footer for birdie on the last hole that would have tied Woods. He pushed it to the right.
Meanwhile, Woods hit his 3-wood under a tree on the 17th, then hit 4-iron into the right rough. He was only 47 yards from the hole, but the lie in the thick grass made the distance look even longer.
"I knew that was probably going to be the shot of the tournament," Woods said. "If I'm aggressive and hit too far behind it and blade it, I'll probably lose. I just said, 'Suck it up and put it on the green like you know you can.'"
He did just that, leaving himself an 18-foot putt. Woods showed more emotion than he has all week when the ball disappeared, giving him a birdie and a two-stroke lead.
"That was one of the best shots I've hit all week," he said.
That's saying something. Despite playing for the first time in three weeks, and using his new Nike irons for the first time in competition, Woods looked as good as he has all year.
He missed only two fairways and five greens over the weekend, went wire-to-wire for the second time this year and had his best score in relation to par since he was 25-under 263 at the Johnnie Walker Classic two years ago.
"I didn't really hit a bad shot today," he said.
Goosen, who finished second to Woods at the Masters and joked that he should get the green trousers, got a nice consolation prize $540,000, enough to put him ahead of Ernie Els on the European tour's Order of Merit by about $12,000.


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