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The 78th

Tiger Woods won his 78th career PGA Tour event at the Player’s Championship today. It was his second win at the PGA Tour’s marquee event and his fourth win of the season. Woods has never won four times this quickly in a season, so it is reasonable to assume that he is back to his dominant form of a few years ago. Or is it?

The record book will show that Woods shot a final round 2 under par 70, and won the Player’s by two shots, but the tournament was very much in doubt until 15 minutes after Woods had finished his round.

Woods began the final round tied for the lead at 11 under par with Sergio Garcia and PGA Tour rookie, David Lingmerth.

During Saturday’s third round controversy flared when Garcia accused Woods of gamesmanship while he was hitting his second shot at the par 5 second hole. Garcia said that Woods intentionally reached for his club (which always draws a reaction from the crowd) in the middle of his backswing.

It is a courtesy among Tour players to not do such things while other players are hitting because it can indeed be a distraction.

At his press conference, Woods would go on to say that, “Well, the marshals, they told me he already hit so I pulled a club and was getting ready to play my shot, and then I hear his comments afterwards and not real surprising that he’s complaining about something.”

Garcia would counter with, “I’m not going to lie. He’s not my favorite guy to play with. He’s not the nicest guy on Tour.” He would follow that comment up with the following: “It’s good for both of us. We don’t enjoy each other’s company. You don’t have to be a rocket engineer to figure that out.”    

The facts of the matter are that the two players do not even speak to each other and to say that they don’t like each other is an understatement. This only fueled what has always been a considerable fire, and made what transpired on Sunday’s final round even more combustible.

For the first thirteen holes Woods did what he has so routinely done throughout his career on the biggest stages. He took control of the tournament. Playing conservative and almost flawless golf, Woods played those holes in 3 under par to build a two shot lead over 49 year old veteran, Jeff Maggert, who somewhere along the way had met with Ponce De Leon and was 6 under par for his round through his first 16 holes. His challenge would end at the island green 17th when he hit his tee shot into the water and make a double bogey 5.

Woods then did the unthinkable. He made a double bogey six on the 14th hole to drop back to 12-under for tournament. He would make a birdie on the par 5 16th to be at 13 under, but he had let several players back into the Championship.    

Meanwhile Garcia and Lingmerth, who were playing in the final group, had been playing some pedestrian golf. Garcia though, would suddenly find his game after making bogey on the tenth hole. He birdied three of his next five holes to get to 13-under par for the tournament standing on the diabolical 17th hole. Lingmerth had also impressively climbed back into contention and was one back of Woods and Garcia at 12 under.

Garcia and Woods have been paired together 7 times on the weekends of tournaments over their careers. Garcia has never beaten Woods in any of those events. To make matters worse, Woods has won every single one of them.

Maybe this would be the year that the sometimes tragic Spaniard would finally prevail and expel so many of the demons that have haunted him in his brilliant but “Major-less” career. That the player who once said, “I’m not good enough … I don’t have the thing I need to have. I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to play for second or third place.” would finally exorcise so many of these things and triumph.

He would not. He would add to his legacy of heartbreak and proceed to hit two balls into the water on 17 and make a quadruple bogey 7. He proceeded to make a double bogey 6 at the final hole and be vanquished yet again by Woods.

Lingmerth however, had played as if he had been in this position so many times. He hit an audacious tee shot, that belied both his inexperience and the situation, on 17 to 7 feet right of the flag (only 4 feet from going into the water). His putt for birdie and a tie for the lead slid just to the right of the hole. Lingmerth then bogeyed his final hole to fall back into a tie for second at 11 under par with Maggert, but he had acquitted himself admirably and we will surely be hearing more from this young man.

This victory for Woods seemed to be one of relief rather than dominance but it is still #78. Always one to be in sync with the history of his accomplishments, Woods won in the 100th appearance on Tour, his 200th appearance and just to make the math perfect, this, his 300th. He now stands only 4 wins short of Sam Snead’s all-time record of wins. He may not be the invincible player that he was once was, but there is still nobody that can challenge his mantle as the world’s greatest player.