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The 79th

The WGC Bridgestone Invitational was basically a foregone conclusion after Friday’s second round when Tiger Woods played what he would describe as a “pretty good” round.

Woods would shoot 61 at Firestone Country Club en route to his eighth victory at this storied venue. Woods actually had his first opportunity to shoot 59 on Tour as he was 9-under par with five holes still to play.  Woods missed two birdie putts from inside 10 feet on the 15th and 17th holes, but he made a host of others during the round, including a 25 footer for par on the 18th hole. Woods needed only 22 putts for the day.

Incredibly, it was the second time that he has posted a 61 at Firestone. The other time was back in 2000. When asked if it was one of his Top Ten rounds, the laconic Woods replied: “(One of my) top 10 rounds? I don’t know about that.”

Woods played a pedestrian (for him) round on Saturday shooting a 2-under par, 68, which maintained the 7 shot lead that he had built after Friday’s round.

Woods began Sunday’s final round by making 9 straight pars before a birdie on the 10th hole which increased his lead to 9 shots over a field that boasted the top 74 players in the world. It was a performance almost reminiscent of when he won his first Masters by 12 in1997, or the 2000 US Open by 15. Sort of like a bear that plays with a fish before he eats them.

At the end of the day, Woods shot a final round 70 to win by ‘only’ 7. And that may be the greatest difference between today’s Tiger and the one 13 years ago. On the weekend at Firestone, he did exactly what you are supposed to do on a very difficult golf course with a 7 shot lead. Play conservatively, make pars and dare the field to catch you. The younger Tiger kept his foot on the accelerator when he built huge leads. The one that is longer in the tooth, plays a wiser, more reserved game.

Of his now 79 PGA Tour victories, almost half of them (36) have come on just 5 courses. Woods has won 8 times at Arnold Palmer’s Invitational at Bay Hill, 8 times at Torrey Pines (7 wins in the Farmers Insurance and his classic, one-legged triumph in the 2008 US Open), 7 again at the American Express Championship at Doral and 5 times at Jack Nicklaus’s Memorial Tournament in Muirfield, OH.

To say that he is “horse for a course’ would be only stating the obvious, but he certainly has places that he likes to play much more than others (true of most professionals). Certain places fit their eye better than others, or play to their strengths more than another might. While those are contributing factors to his successes, we would put forth that the major ingredient for his dominion at all of these sites, is that loves their the putting surfaces. If you review the statistics over the years at these 5 courses, you will see that his normally extraordinary short game is raised another to level when he plays them.

Woods’ inexorable march to break Sam Snead’s record of 82 wins on the PGA Tour seems as absolute as a sun that rises in the East. His fanatical goal to break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 Major Championships (he currently has 14), which is really the only record that matters to Woods, remains much more in doubt. #79, however, was a dominant performance.