MARANA, Ariz. - Tiger Woods stood on the back of the 11th green, waiting for all the guys in blue jackets who needed a picture with him and the trophy. Tiger doesn't even mind all the photo ups that the wins bring these days.
It's part of the deal - just like destroying an overmatched, overwhelmed and overcautious Stewart Cink 8-and-7 in the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship final.
Every win means history now, and lately every tournament played has meant a win. This one moved Woods past Arnold Palmer into fourth place in all-time PGA Tour victories with 63, marked his sixth straight win overall and perhaps most tellingly, had him openly talking about his drive for a perfect season in 2008 - a goal he'd left unspoken before.
"That's my intent," Woods said of the prospect of going without a single loss in 2008. "That's why you play. If you don't believe you can win an event, don't show up."
Cink showed up on Sunday without the putting stroke - or seemingly, the confidence - that had him running through the non-Tiger side of the bracket 5-0. The guy who beat Woods in college only wanted to talk historic Tiger too.
"He's a lot better now that he's ever been," Cink said. "He's really learned how to stay within himself. He regulates himself and his heartbeat. Physiologically he's regulating all the time."
Physiologically? That brought a few eye-rolls in the media center at The Gallery Golf Club. But what do you think, you'd sound like after only lasting 29 of the possible 36 holes of a match play final against Tiger Woods?
It wasn't Tiger's heart rate that left Cink walking back down the 11th fairway as the trophy presentation broke up into a picture show. "Let him get out of here," a PGA Tour official called into her walkie talkie and soon they had the 22nd-ranked golfer in the world in the back of a courtesy Lexus SUV, getting whisked away like a child who'd seen too much.
Tiger credited a short game he'd obsessed over his whole offseason for his perfect 3-for-3 start in terms of tournaments entered and won in 2008. He's being credited with 47 match-play birdies and two match-play eagles in his 117 holes played in the Arizona desert. Those included a fair share of conceded birdies though, including a few in Sunday's first 18 from Stewart that had the Golf Channel's Nick Faldo shaking his head.
"I think he should have made Tiger putt a few of those out," Faldo said. "There's something to being too deferential."
Cink didn't want to talk turning points though. Not after the afternoon round turned into a grim betting game for even the marshals as they radioed each other on what hole they thought Tiger would wrap it up on. If you had No. 11, you win!
"I think maybe we ought to slice (Tiger) open to see what's inside," Cink said. "Maybe nuts and bolts."
The Machine now has an eight-shot stroke play win, a blitz of a comeback win in Dubai (erasing a four-shot deficit with five birdies in the last seven holes) and an 8-and-7 Match Play final W on his '08 resume.
Woods knows that this is sure to brings calls for the other high-ranked players on the PGA Tour (and 64 of the top 65 ranked players in the world were here) to step up their own games. Especially from generations past like Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.
Tiger's brushing that off too, though.
"It's that way in every sport, isn't it?" he said.
Rather than focusing on any gripes from the legends he's zooming by like cones on the side of a highway, Woods is setting his laser glare on preparing for the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in three weeks and then likely Doral in Miami the week right after that.
"I've got a plateful to work on," Woods said. "Believe me. You can always get better."
After only winning two holes all day, you might think Cink would dispute the idea Woods can get even better. Instead, the golfer who has more than $22 million in career Tour earnings despite not having won in 86 tournaments points to one of the holes he won as proof.
Cink dropped a 37-foot birdie putt to take No. 10 in the afternoon. But it only stood up after Woods' 35-foot birdie putt spun out off the edge of the cup.
"I told my caddie before he hit it that it was going in," Cink said, shaking his head. "He doesn't like to be upstaged that way. Even the miniscule amount I upstaged him there with him being 8-up ... I still thought he was going to make it.
"He lipped it out."
So Tiger is now 15-for-26 career in World Golf Championship events - tournaments designed to bring together world-class fields as part of the elite tournament tier well below the four majors, but well above most other events. Henrik Stenson - who beat Justin Leonard 3-and-2 in the third-place consolation match Sunday - now gets to return to the European Tour, knowing he'll only have to see Woods in majors, WGC events and probably The Players.
"I don't see the need to be on the PGA Tour full time," Stenson said, earlier in the week, having given up his card for the chance to win tournaments closer to his home.
Cink, the Georgia guy, isn't thinking of trying to defect to the European Tour. But he doesn't sound like he expects winners without TW stitched on their hats (a Nike courtesy) in tournaments Tiger enters either.
"I don't think there's a course that's made that doesn't fit him because he just morphs his game into the courses," Cink said. "So I don't think there's a course that's going to provide him with a real obstacle."
At the trophy ceremony on 11, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem leaned in to tell Woods how great he'd played. Tiger politely nodded. He knows.
February 25, 2008
Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.
Davis Love III, who played the final 57 holes of the Children's Miracle Network Classic without a bogey, finished at 25-under 263 in the season-ending event played at the Walt Disney World Golf Resort in Florida. It has been a long road back for Love, who severely sprained his ankle late last year. After tearing ligaments, he needed surgery, and he's spent much of this year rehabilitating the injury.
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