El Nino reigns on Tiger

Posted: Tuesday, August 29, 2000

PALM DESERT, Ca. -- Under the weather and under the lights, Tiger Woods still proved tough to beat.

Sergio Garcia found a way to do so Monday night, holing two birdie putts on the last three holes to beat an ailing Woods 1-up as golf returned to prime time in the ''Battle at Bighorn.''

The win meant nothing on the official charts, but was worth $1.1 million and a ton of pride for Garcia, who holed a 35-footer on the 16th hole to go ahead and a 10-footer for birdie on the last hole to clinch the match.

''I've had better days, and I've had shorter days,'' Woods said. ''It was a long day and I enjoyed it. I just wish I could have felt a bit better.''

Woods, coming off wins in the PGA Championship a week earlier and the NEC Invitational Sunday night, fought the flu as well as fatigue but still shot a bogey-free 67 to lose by only a hole.

''I'm so cold. I'm freezing,'' Woods said to caddie Steve Williams as he waited to putt on the 17th hole on a warm night in the desert.

Darkness descended on the desert course by the 14th hole, with players and fans straining to see the shots. But floodlights perched atop cranes lit the last four holes, and that was where Garcia shone.

''Over those last holes, I just felt so good with the putter,'' Garcia said.

Woods still had a chance on the 18th, nearly holing a pitch over a greenside bunker to within 3 feet of the hole. But Garcia, who had pitched to 10 feet, made his putt and the match was over.

''At least I gave Sergio a run for his money,'' said Woods. ''He had to make some putts to earn it.''

For Woods, it was the end to a stretch of golf that saw him win in a thrilling finish at the PGA and in a runaway at the NEC.

''I've had three pretty good weeks,'' Woods said. ''The last few months have been good to me. But it builds up. My body just broke down a couple days short.''

Woods finished off the field in near darkness Sunday to win the NEC in Akron, Ohio, then flew across the country Monday, and he and Garcia needed lights to finish the final holes.

The darker it got, the better Garcia played.

Garcia made eight birdies, five on the back nine, against a pair of bogeys for what would have been a 66 in medal play. Woods didn't make a bogey, but managed only five birdies, including the conceded putt on the final hole, for a medal 67.

''I was a little nervous on the first hole,'' Garcia said. ''After that, I started calming down a little bit.''

Garcia grew increasingly animated as he played nearly flawless golf down the stretch, while Woods appeared tired and trying to keep his focus in a surreal setting in the Santa Rosa foothills.

The evening had started well for Woods, who got out in front quickly as spectators just began scrambling for position on an overcast but hot and humid late afternoon. Garcia missed the first green and made bogey after chipping past the pin, while Woods made a routine par.

But, with Woods making only one birdie on the front side, Garcia got back to even after a birdie on the eighth hole. They remained that way after a front nine in which neither played particularly well, both shooting 1-under 35s.

Woods flew to California after doing a corporate clinic in Ohio Monday morning.

Both he and Garcia went out before the televised match to play a few holes on the Canyons course at Bighorn.

''Another million,'' one fan yelled at Woods as he walked down the fairway.

Woods was clearly the attraction for an estimated 6-7,000 fans, who shouted out at him and ran from hole to hole to get prime viewing spots.

The players were driven in golf carts between many of the holes, and on several occasions Woods looked a bit nervous as his cart was forced to thread between throngs of fans to get to the next tee.

Between the third and fourth holes, Garcia hopped off his cart and tried to find his way through a swarm of fans to a restroom.

''He's in the porta potty to the left,'' one security guard barked to another on his radio.

As Garcia stood over a putt on the fourth hole, a cell phone rang. Both he and Woods also backed off shots after beginning their backswings when cameras went off next to the tee.

Unlike last year's inaugural event, which saw Woods beat No. 2 David Duval 2 and 1, Garcia was picked for the match despite not winning all year and holding the No. 15 ranking in the world.

Garcia got the nod because of the animated way he often plays, such as in the 1999 PGA Championship when he ran across the fairway and leaped into the air as he chased a shot on the final day.

But Garcia showed little emotion early, and he and Woods didn't share much conversation, despite wearing microphones for the television broadcast.

A day earlier, Woods hit an 8-iron to 2 feet in near darkness on the final hole to win the NEC by 11 shots. It was his eighth win in 16 PGA Tour events this year, five of them coming by at least four strokes.

Woods has also won four of the last five majors, beginning with the 1999 PGA in which he held Garcia off by a shot at Medinah Country Club.

Garcia, meanwhile, has struggled all year, winning only $554,313 compared to $7.7 million for Woods.

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