- The Washington Times - Monday, July 24, 2006

HOYLAKE, England — Tiger Woods gave the golf world a brilliant exhibition of extremes yesterday at the 135th British Open.

The world No. 1 followed perhaps the most methodical major victory of his career with an equally remarkable emotional display. After holing his final putt at Hoylake to collect his third claret jug and 11th major title by two strokes over fellow American Chris DiMarco, Woods clung to caddie Steve Williams and sobbed openly, as fragile in the aftermath as he seemed unflappable during the fray.

“I’ve never done that. You know me,” the 30-year-old Woods (18-under 270) said after the greatest emotional outpouring of his career. “I’m kind of the one who bottles things up a little bit and moves on. … But at that moment, it just came pouring out — all the things that my father has meant to me. I just wish he could have seen it one more time.”

Woods’ father and best friend, Earl Woods, died May 3 after a lengthy battle with cancer. It was far from unexpected, but that did little to soften the blow for the masterful champion. Woods still seemed emotionally raw and psychologically distracted when he made his return to competitive golf at last month’s U.S. Open. The result at Winged Foot was his first missed cut in a major as a professional and a mountain of speculation about his psyche for the rest of the season.

Woods responded to all those questions about his focus this week at Hoylake, constructing and then executing the most conservative game plan of his major career without the hint of a concentration lapse.

“[Dad] was always on my case about thinking my way around the golf course,” said Woods, whose meticulous 2-iron approach off the tees on the 7,258-yard, par-72 links left him much longer approaches to the greens than most of the field but also eliminated Hoylake’s treacherous cross-bunkers from his winning equation. “I wish he could have watched this. It would have brought a smile to his face.”

The way Woods struck his long irons this week might have also earned a wink from Ben Hogan.

Woods began the day at 13 under, one stroke clear of the high-profile pack of DiMarco (272), Ernie Els (275) and Sergio Garcia (277). He took official command of the event at the par-5 fifth, breaking a momentary deadlock with Els at 13 under with a 25-foot eagle putt. And when the gutsy DiMarco emerged as his only real challenger, following lengthy birdies at the 10th and 13th with a miracle 50-foot par save at the 14th and an up-and-down birdie at the par-5 16th to reach 15 under and close the gap to a stroke, Woods reached for the extra gear that sets him apart from his brethren.

With DiMarco on his heels, Woods flagged three consecutive approaches to put the championship out of reach, rolling home point-blank birdies at the 14th and 15th and then two-putting for birdie at the 16th to reach 18 under and surge an insurmountable three clear of DiMarco.

“He’s a hard guy to catch, I’ll tell you that,” said DiMarco, who cemented his Ryder Cup status (now sixth in the U.S. standings) with a charging 68 in the Sunday spotlight. “He’s got an uncanny ability to, when somebody gets close to him, to just turn it up another level.”

After a two-putt par at the 17th, Woods visibly sighed after successfully finding the fairway on the par-5 18th, steering well clear of the out-of-bounds mounding lining the right side of the hole with a driving 2-iron stinger. He then hit one last memorable long iron, driving a 5-iron just over the green.

“It’s probably one of the best ball striking weeks I’ve ever had, as far as control,” said Woods, who moved into a tie with Walter Hagen in the Slam pantheon and now stands behind only Jack Nicklaus (18 major titles) on golf’s ultimate roster. “I hit the ball well the entire week, and I felt like I had wonderful touch on the greens.”

With the claret jug secured after his approach to the 18th, Woods removed his cap to salute the crowd and his face began to cloud with emotion.

What began with tears yesterday afternoon undoubtedly ended with a heavenward toast last night as Tiger paid tribute to Earl with one of the most impressive weeks of his already epic career.

“This jug will be filled up [with] my beverage of choice and not just once,” Woods said of his celebratory plans for golf’s most famous trophy. “To win your first tournament after your father has passed away, and for it to be a major championship, it makes it that much more special.”

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