Tour News: WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

"Hello World", those were the words that golf's best player said after his first tournament in Milwaukee, a decade before Sunday. Though most rookie pros probably would not be as comfortable with the media attention and to sit in front of the mic as the young Tiger was, Tiger's words were the proper introduction to his career. It is unclear if Tiger knew that he would be in the same conversation as Niclaus, but he sure knows now. Tiger Woods' fourth consecutive victory came in dramatic fashion at Firestone Country Club at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational. Tiger faced an epic showdown with fellow Nike Golf staffer Stewart Cink as it took four playoff holes before Stewart Cink finally fell to the World's number one golfer. Tiger's fourth consecutive victory (British Open, Buick Invitational, PGA Championship, Bridgestone Invitational) came not without its fair share of struggles including Tiger's shot on Friday at the ninth hole where his nine iron airmailed the green, and then hit the cart path behind the green only to bounce off the roof to roll across behind the clubhouse in the kitchen's garden. The shot, crowned the champion of ESPN Sportcenter's Not Top Ten, resulted in a free drop as the clubhouse was surprisingly not marked out of bounds. Tiger smiled in an interview after the tournament as he also was in disbeleif that the clubhouse had not been marked out of bounds. Tiger almost made the par putt following a great wedge shot from the equidistant of where the ball was found, but missed slightly and took his only bogey of Friday's round. Saturday brought many more struggles as Tiger made four consecutive bogeys, the first time since his rookie season, bringing Tiger in with a disappointing 71(+1). Despite a poor Saturday, Tiger came to play on Sunday chasing third round leader Stewart Cink by one stroke. Cink was coming off a great round of 64(-6) and looking for a great finish to validate his selection for the Ryder Cup by U.S. captain Tom Lehman. Tiger was able to turn a two shot deficit after nine holes into a 3 stroke lead after the thirteenth which should have given Tiger the go-ahead to enter cruise control as no other player was able to make birdies. Jim Furyk, ranked third in the World Ranking, charged on the back nine to enter the fight with Cink and Woods, but was unable to find birdies despite strong irons play and putting. Furyk's chances died on the 18th, a hole in front of Woods and Cink, as his drive found the right trees forcing the West Chester native to pitch out into the fairway where he would fire at the flag and hit a tricky eight footer to save par. On the 16th, the longest holes, a 667 par 5 with an approach over water, Tiger's drive found the trees deep right forcing Tiger to pitch out onto the fairway. Tiger would hit a long iron from 230 yards over the green into deep rough, but hit a magnificent rolling chip to about four feet only to miss the par putt and drop another stroke to Stewart Cink. The 17th, a short par four, would give Cink a birdie to Woods' par which tied the two at ten under par. On the 18th, both golfers stood on the elevated tee of the finishing par four watching as thousands of fans shuffled in to watch the grand finale of the WGC Invitational. Woods was able to find the fairway with a long tee shot as Stewart Cink found trees. Woods had the first shot, knocking his to a safe 14 feet. Cink now had all the pressure as he had to keep his shot very low to avoid trees in front of him and the green. Cink's approach was 90 feet short of the pin, yet still on the green giving him a tough birdie putt of several undulations in the green. Cink's putt would finish near the hole giving him an easy par, and Tiger Woods a chance to have one of his magical moments to win the entire golf tournament. Tiger putt would break hard to the left forcing a playoff. Both players went back to the 17th, both making pars in front of thousands all finding every space to stand. The next two holes would go the same way, with pars on the 18th and bogeys on the third playoff hole. The dramatic finish would be on the 18th hole, the fourth of the playoff as Woods hit an approach to 7 feet, Cink would find a greenside bunker. Cink's efforts to make par would prove futile as Tiger finished Cink with a perfectly struck birdie putt dropping in the center of the cup as rain began to por down in Akron. Tiger's fifth victory at the WGC Bridgestone would rewrite the record book in more ways than winning four straight for the first time. Winning the Bridgestone for the fifth time puts Tiger on a list including Harry Vardon, Walter Hagen, and Jack Nicklaus as the most common champions of a professional golf event. More importantly for Tiger in chasing the Golden Bear, Tiger would tie the great Byron Nelson in career victories at 52, only one week after tieing Billy Casper for career victories at 51. Tiger now only trails Jack Nicklaus by 21 career victories. Stewart Cink also validated his Ryder Cup captain's pick by U.S. captain Tom Lehman, only one week after Lehman struggles to decide. Davis Love III, who was not selected for the U.S. Ryder Cup team, would take fourth place while struggling on Sunday. The PGA Tour will move to the Deutsch Bank Championship in Boston, Massachusetts where Woods will attempt to win five straight victories. The Bridgestone Invitational brought several top ranked players to their knees, especially former second ranked Ernie Els of South Africa who continued his struggles during the 2006 season by posting a 78 (+8) after starting Sunday in contention. Els has consitantly struggles with putting four good rounds together which has prevented Els from victory in the 2006 season. Remember, Els did not play a single event in the 2005 season after the British Open due to knee surgery. Els world ranking will certainly suffer as we move further into the Fall Finish as Els has no wins this year, and no performances in the end of 2005. Former world number one, Fijian Vijay Singh also struggled during the week finishing in the middle of the field with a total score of 6 over par. The most shocking finish was certainly world number two, Phil Mickelson who has struggled in every tournament he has entered following his double bogey on the 18th at the U.S. Open giving the win to Aussie Geoff Ogilvy. The PGA Tour's Reno-Tahoe Open was won by first-timer Will Mackenzie who birdied the eighteenth to win by one stroke at 20 under par over Bob Estes.

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