- The Washington Times - Monday, July 6, 2009

If Anthony Kim is smart, he studied everything Tiger Woods did Sunday in the final round of the AT&T National - maybe even took notes. He’ll never have a more educational experience, a closer look at how to win a golf tournament … or in Tiger’s case, how to win 68.

The last 18 holes at Congressional were billed as a generational battle between the 33-year-old king and the 24-year-old pretender, who began the afternoon tied for the lead. But by the time they made the turn, Woods had separated himself from Kim and had somebody else - somebody totally unexpected - to worry about: Ryder Cupper Hunter Mahan.

Mahan wasn’t even on the radar screen when he stepped on the first tee. But he proceeded to putt like Ben Crenshaw, racked up nine birdies and tied the course record of 62 that Kim had set only three days earlier. And just after he walked off the 18th green, stunningly he found himself tied with Woods at 12 under - thanks to Tiger’s Daily Bogey at No. 11.

Could it really happen? Could Mahan actually steal the tournament with an otherworldly 18 holes while Woods and Kim were preoccupied with their head-to-head match?

Of course not. This is Tiger Woods we’re talking about, the Golfer Who Never Blinks. Woods simply hunkered down until he got to the par-5 16th, then rolled in a 20-foot birdie that enabled him once again to take the first prize in an event he hosts. Another player might have been slightly discombobulated to see Mahan, out of nowhere, crowding him on the leader board but not Tiger.

Which isn’t to say he didn’t sweat a little - or whatever it is that Tiger does in these situations.

“What Hunter did was really impressive,” Woods said. “With the pin placements [as tough as they are on Sunday], I didn’t see that score [of 62] out there. It put so much pressure on AK and me… because he posted so early - on a difficult golf course. A lot of things can happen here, and there was only one birdie hole [16] coming in.”

But again, Woods has been through so much competitively in his 33 years - so much more, certainly, than Kim. He won the U.S. Amateur at 18, won the Masters at 21, won four straight majors at 24 (Anthony’s age) and 25. And he was able to do these things for the same reason he was able to win Sunday: Because in such moments, he’s less Tiger than the Terminator.

Sure it was a long week being the host and all, he said afterward. “But I got the ‘W’ ” - as he almost always does when he has the chance.

On the practice tee Sunday, Tiger figured if he could shoot “something under par,” anything under par, “it would be good enough.” And that was a fair assumption, inasmuch as his main competition, Kim, was playing with him for the first time and apt to be a bit jittery.

Anthony wasn’t too wired to birdie the first hole, but by the time they got to No. 8, after back-to-back Woods birdies, Tiger was beginning to pull away. He was three shots ahead at that point and showing no weakness.

And he wouldn’t except at 11, a hellish par 4 that humbled him all week (bogey, bogey, double bogey, bogey). He managed to find humor even in that, though, which tells you something else about his makeup, about his ability to deal with the game’s day-to-day disasters.

“I made a five or worse [on the hole] four different ways,” he said, sounding amazed at the sheer breadth of his ineptitude. “It takes a lot of talent to do that. I even managed to make bogey from the fairway.”

But the rest of the round he was nigh unwavering. He hit a lot of fairways and greens, gave himself a chance a bunch of makable birdie putts and sank enough of them to leave behind the more flighty Kim, who lost control of his driver for a spell and never really got his flatstick to behave.

Tiger 67, Anthony 71. Not a knockout, perhaps, but a Serious Schooling nonetheless.

We’ll find out in the months and years ahead how closely the kid was paying attention. There’s obviously much he could learn from watching Master Eldrick - first and foremost, you’d think, about keeping his emotions in check so he doesn’t start knocking his tee shots into adjacent fairways.

Golf fans, no doubt, learned something Sunday as well - or at least, they confirmed something: There’s still quite a gulf separating Woods and Kim at this stage of their careers. Young Anthony is gifted and daring - and figures to collect plenty of trophies before he through - but there’s only one Tiger… and he’s not going anywhere.

• Dan Daly can be reached at ddaly@washingtontimes.com.

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