Total world domination

Posted: Monday, March 03, 2003

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- Tiger Woods completed his sweep of the World Golf Championships on Sunday, building a big lead and then holding off a gritty comeback from David Toms to win the Match Play Championship.

Leading by as many as five holes, Woods finally closed out Toms with a 3-foot par putt on the 35th to win, 2 and 1.

''It was a tough day for all of us,'' Woods said.

It figured to be a breeze for Woods, especially after he had a 5-up lead and had 8 feet for birdie on the second hole. Toms rolled in a 35-foot birdie putt to swing the momentum, and slowly pieced together a charge that made Woods look vulnerable.

Woods won a record three straight U.S. Junior Amateur titles and three straight U.S. Amateurs, but he was 0-4 as a professional.

That changed during a dominant week at La Costa, where he made only five bogeys on a tough course and played only 112 holes, the fewest of any winner in the five-year history of the tournament.

He also became the first player to win all four of the World Golf Championships since their inception in 1999 -- three times the NEC Invitational, twice the American Express Championship and the 2000 World Cup with David Duval.

The missing piece was the Accenture Match Play Championship, a format Woods enjoys the most. He finally showed why, hitting smart shots down the stretch when his game was off and making Toms come after him.

The former PGA champion almost did.

A 15-foot birdie putt on No. 15 cut the lead to 1 up with three holes to play. After they parred the 16th, Toms missed the fairway and then hit into rough so deep left of the green that he could barely identify his ball.

He hacked out just short of the green, and his par chip turned away.

Toms, who only last August said he could not compete on a regular basis with Woods, showed plenty of heart and game.

''I'm not going to quit,'' said Toms, who was 4-down after the morning 18. ''That's not my nature. We're on national TV and I wanted to last a long time. I didn't want to be embarrassed. My goal was to chip away.''

Woods won for the 36th time on the PGA Tour and earned $1,050,000.

Since returning from knee surgery after a two-month rehab, Woods has won twice and tied for fifth. His game looks better than ever as he starts preparing for the Masters.

Toms, who missed the cut his previous two tournaments, made $600,000.

Adam Scott, who pushed Woods to 19 holes in the semifinals, was 6 up through eight holes in the 18-hole consolation match against Peter Lonard. Scott didn't make another birdie until the 18th, winning 1 up.

Scott earned $480,000, the largest check of his career. Lonard won $390,000.

Toms trailed by as many as five holes, but never panicked. He has more grit than glitz, and hung around just long enough for Woods to start making a few mistakes.

Woods, so relentless with his power and accuracy in the morning round, made only two bogeys in his first 102 holes at La Costa before making them back-to-back on the 26th and 27th holes, to swing momentum in Toms' favor.

Suddenly, his lead was only 2 up. Toms twice cut that in half, holing a 15-foot birdie putt on the 15th hole to give himself a chance.

Still, the match was really decided over the first 18 holes when Woods applied relentless pressure off the tee with power and accuracy.

''I got down too far to come back,'' Toms said.

Woods was 4 up after the morning round, a margin that seemed even larger considering the limited opportunities Toms had to win a hole.

His remarks from the PGA Championship last year seemed prophetic.

''Tell me this: If we're all on our games and they're hitting three less clubs than me, who's got the better chance?'' Toms said at Hazeltine after playing the first round with Woods and Ernie Els.

That's exactly how it shaped up at La Costa.

Woods belted his drives long and straight, not missing a fairway until the 11th hole. That gave him shorter irons into the greens, and he had 16 birdie putts in the morning.

It looked like it might be the biggest rout in the finals of any match-play event when Woods hit his approach into 4 feet on the opening hole of the afternoon for birdie to go 5 up, then followed with a shot into 8 feet on the par-3 second.

Toms showed no quit.

He holed a 35-foot birdie putt on No. 2 and won the hole when Woods missed his birdie, a key moment in the match.

Woods was on the verge of going 6 up, and momentum suddenly shifted to Toms. On the next hole, Toms made a 10-foot birdie putt and Woods three-putted for par from 40 feet, missing his birdie attempt from 5 feet.

Even so, this was Woods' match to lose. He hit into 3 feet for birdie on No. 6, exchanged pars on the next hole and was 4 up with 11 holes to play.

Toms didn't go away. He simply ran out of holes.

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