- The Washington Times - Monday, August 21, 2006

MEDINAH, Ill. — Tiger is now two-thirds of the way to the Bear’s golden major mark.

Tiger Woods waltzed to his 12th major championship title in record fashion at the 88th PGA Championship yesterday, closing with a 68 to finish five strokes ahead of runner-up Shaun Micheel and the floundering field at Medinah.

“It was a special day out there,” said Woods, understated as always.

Woods finished 18 under with a 270 over four rounds on the 7,561-yard, par-72 layout, flirting with his own major scoring record (19 under at the 2000 British Open) before a bunker-bound bogey at Medinah’s treacherous, par-3 17th hole.

The victory moved Woods past Walter Hagen and into second on the all-time Slam list as the 30-year-old continues to close on Jack Nicklaus’ record mark of 18 major championships. Most importantly, the triumph keeps Woods well ahead of Nicklaus’ pace. The Golden Bear was 33 when he collected his 12th major title at the 1973 PGA Championship, putting Woods three full seasons and 12 major opportunities ahead of the Nicklaus template.

“Eighteen is a pretty big number,” Woods said after collecting the Wanamaker Trophy for the third time (1999, 2000 and 2006) overall and second time at Medinah. “It took Jack [24] years to [win 18 majors]. It’s going to take a career, and I’ve got to just keep plugging along. … It’s still a long way away. It’s not something I can get to next year.”

Interestingly, all 12 of Woods’ major uprisings have come in similar front-running fashion, as golf’s ultimate closer extended his streak of perfection from the 54-hole pole yesterday. Woods is now 12-for-12 in majors when he holds or shares the 54-hole lead, an astounding mark that speaks both to his dominance and the intimidating sway he holds over the psyches of his fellow players.

Just as in the vast majority of his major triumphs, yesterday’s result was virtually never in doubt. Woods began the day tied with England’s Luke Donald (276) at 14 under but quickly took the outright lead with a 10-foot birdie at the first hole and was never again threatened.

The 28-year-old Donald, a Northwestern graduate playing in the final pairing at a major for the first time, showed his major nerves by dropping his first bogey in 41 holes after missing the fourth green long and left. Woods then carded a two-putt birdie at the par-5, 5th and drained 35-foot birdies at Nos. 6 and 8 to reach 18 under, sprinting away from the flagging competition just as he has done so often during his 10-year pro career.

“Jack Nicklaus is the only other player I’ve ever seen who looks more comfortable leading on the back nine of a major than playing the first hole of a tournament, and that’s pretty scary,” said U.S. Ryder Cup teammate Chris DiMarco (280). “It’s almost like he comes into his comfort zone in that in that situation and just relishes the fact that everybody for the most part wants to see him trip. People are like, ‘Please make bogeys, other people make birdies,’ and he just puts the hammer down.”

Woods’ ball-striking wasn’t quite as sharp as it was Saturday, when he dazzled in hitting 17 greens. But like any great champion, Tiger has many tools in his arsenal. And yesterday, it was his sizzling putter that provided the front-nine separation that turned the closing nine into little more than a victory lap. Woods needed just 11 putts over his first nine holes and made the turn with a three-shot edge over 2003 Masters champion Mike Weir.

“I just had one of those magical days on the greens,” Woods said after his 51st career PGA Tour victory and third in consecutive starts, dating back to last month’s British Open. “I knew if I could just get it on the green, I’d be all right, because I had one of those days where I just felt like I could make anything with the putter.”

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