Tiger Woods has held off a persistent and impressive Chris DiMarco to win his third Open Championship and his 11th Major title. Both have suffered personal losses in recent months, with DiMarco losing his mother and Woods his father and their capacity to be inspired rather than inhibited by such an occurrence will now become part of the folklore that is the 2006 Open Championship at Hoylake.
It became clear as Woods walked towards the green, after a hitting a very good but still potentially dangerous second to the last, just how much strain the past few months and the need to contain emotions in this important week had placed on the thirty year old. If we ever needed proof as to just how great Tiger Woods is, we got it today as he very clinically went about setting up this marvellous victory. We all suffer losses in our lives but seldom are individuals forced to do so under such scrutiny and pressure.
Not only did Woods and DiMarco perform under the absolute spotlight but so too did the grand old lady that is Hoylake. It was no coincidence that the leader board at the end of 72 holes reflected many of the games great ball strikers. She was not long and she benefited by relatively calm and benign conditions for much of the week but despite a near record score, the field, almost to a man, sang her praises.
By the time the last tee off time arrived on day four, the skies were overcast and the breeze if anything a little stronger than it had been earlier in the week. Unlike yesterday's third round when every man and their dog were challenging for a piece of the action before the leaders teed off the scoring was relatively quiet on day four.
As Tiger teed off he had a one shot lead over his playing partner Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els and Chris DiMarco and by two over Angel Cabrera and Hideto Tanihara. Both Woods and Garcia got their rounds under way with two putt pars at the first but Garcia's slide from contention started at the second when he three putted for the first of four bogeys in an outward half of 39.
Woods continued to make pars but ahead, Els was the first to challenge the lead when he birdied the par five fifth after two putting from just short of the green. DiMarco had dropped a shot at the first but found his first birdie at the 6th from 12 feet and he was back at eleven under although courtesy of a Woods eagle from 25 feet at the 5th he trailed by three.
Another beginning to emerge as a potential threat was the Argentine, Andres Romero who moved to 11 under himself when he birdied the 4th, 5th and 6th. His challenge began to fade when he bogeyed the 9th but considering he was not even in the event until his great finish last week at Loch Lomond seven days ago, his eighth place was quite simply stunning.
Tanihara is a prolific money winner in Japan and has won three times on that tour but he is hardly a household name in world golf and so when he moved to eleven under early it was a case for many of Hideto who? He answered those questions and more by bouncing back from a mini collapse in the middle of the front nine to eventually shoot 71 and at eleven under par finished in a share of fifth. If there has been a better finish by a Japanese golfer at the Open Championship I don't recall it.
Jim Furyk saw his chances disappear with two bogeys to start his round and although he came back strongly late in the day, the damage had already been done as far as a winning chance was concerned. He shared fourth, his equal best finish in the event.
As the leaders made the turn it was clear that only three people had any chance of winning. Woods turned at 15 under and had just a two shot lead as DiMarco had just two putted the tenth to move to thirteen under.
As DiMarco emerged as Woods biggest threat, Els dropped his second shot of the day at the 11th. Woods, who was playing behind DiMarco and Els, was doing little wrong and so DiMarco would have to go and catch him rather than wait for the mistake that appeared unlikely. Di Marco took up the challenge with birdies at the 13th, 16th and 18th and in fact at one point after Woods bogeyed the 12th, after missing the green and pitching to 20 feet, the difference was just one.
At the 14th Woods produced a brilliant birdie when the club and the hole that must now be his favourites of the week produced a shot from more than 200 yards to 14 feet. When that went in it started a run of three consecutive birdies which would take him three clear. It was at that same 14th with that same club earlier in the week when he holed a similar shot.
Tiger stood on the 18th tee with a three shot lead but when DiMarco hit two good shots just through the back of the green he was able to make birdie and the difference was just two and with a potentially dangerous approach to come for Tiger, it was not yet over. Woods hit a brilliant second which slipped through the back of the green. From there he managed to putt it up to six feet and although he missed that his par was good enough to give him the two shot win.
It was clear watching the interaction between Tiger and his caddy Steve Williams, as they walked one of the great walks in the game to the 18th green, that the raw emotions were close to the surface. A high five to each other there would lead later to perhaps the most meaningful and insightful embrace ever between caddy and player after such a victory. The tears flowed as Steve Williams has no doubt been a loyal friend and support thought some hard times in recent months and Tiger could not hold back any longer.
It was perhaps just as well their embrace was so public, as Woods inadvertently forgot to mention Williams in the list of people he thanked in his speech when accepting the trophy.
In third place was Els whose two late birdies saw him recovering a little of the lost ground from earlier in the day. Jim Furyk was fourth while Tanihara and Garcia tied for fifth.
The best of the Australians was Adam Scott who was mounting a challenge when he reached 12 under after a birdie at the par five 16th. A bogey at the 17th was followed by a disastrous double at the last after his second headed out of bounds. Still, despite the disappointment, Scott's finish was his best ever in a major.
Virtually all day Peter Lonard was at eight under and with the prospect of good scoring opportunities late in his round, his chances of his best finish in a major were also looking good. His previous best had been 11th at Bethpage and 14th at Muirfield but instead of improving on those performances he dropped shots at the 17th and 18th and finished 16th.
Also in 16th place were Robert Allenby, Geoff Ogilvy and Brett Rumford.
Mark Hensby was 22nd, Michael Campbell, John Senden, Rod Pampling and Marcus Fraser were 35th, while Andrew Buckle ran out of steam and finished 61st.
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