Tiger Woods opened his 2008 season with a dominant victory that put him on par with the King.
Woods closed with a 1-under-par 71 Sunday to finish at 19-under 269 and win the Buick Invitational for the fourth consecutive time at Torrey Pines. It also marked Woods' 62nd career PGA Tour victory, tying him with Arnold Palmer.
"I'm sure that there are many, many more coming in the future," Palmer said in a statement. "There isn't any question about that."
Woods said he imagines Palmer's personal words of congratulations the next time the two men speak won't be nearly as formal.
"He probably won't put it that nicely," Woods told reporters in La Jolla, Calif. "He'll give me grief, just like he always does. He always gives me the needle, which is great.
"I'll do the same, and it will actually probably be more fun when I can needle him if I can get ahead of him."
If Woods continues playing like he did in the Buick Invitational, that won't take long. The world's No. 1-ranked player entered the day with an eight-stroke lead and maintained the advantage, despite an uncharacteristic stretch of three consecutive bogeys on holes 14-16 at the Torrey Pines South Course.
Woods recovered with a par at No. 17 and finished by sinking a 10-foot birdie putt at No. 18. Even with the brief lapse, Woods served notice that he's still on top of his game, winning for the fifth time in his last six tournaments dating back to last year.
This type of performance, Woods said, is the reason he went through his most recent round of swing changes.
"I knew I could attain another level, and here we are," said Woods, who planned to leave Sunday for the Dubai Desert Classic. "Even though I didn't drive the ball particularly well this week, I still was able to do what I was able to do this week, which was nice.
"I just need to go ahead and improve on that for next week, and hopefully the rest of my game will be about the same, if not better."
Woods was quick to acknowledge that he feels even better about his game than he did in 2000 — a year that saw him capture three major tournament titles.
"I'm starting to get better. I'm hitting shots that I never could hit before, even in 2000," Woods said. "I'm actually hitting the ball better now than I did during that stretch."
With only seven players breaking par in the final round on the South Course, Woods added a pair of clips to his career highlight reel. The first was a remarkable pitch out of a muddy lie behind the ninth green to help him save par. The second was a 60-foot bender for birdie at No. 11.
Woods has now won six times as a professional at Torrey Pines, the site of this year's U.S. Open.
"This course has been really kind to me," Woods said with a laugh. "Ever since junior golf all the way through my professional ranks, I've somehow really seemed to have played well here. It fits my eye.
"I feel very comfortable here. I can read the greens even though they're a little bit bouncy. I can still read them, and I read them well."
Woods' lopsided victory left everyone else playing for second place. That honor went to Ryuji Imada, who closed with a 5-under 67 to finish at 11-under 277.
"This is the Tiger Woods Invitational, isn't it?" Imada jokingly asked in his post-round press conference. "I thought he was the host.
"My goal today going in was to finish second. Obviously first place was a little bit out of reach, I figured. I tried my best to finish second, and I did just that, so it was great."
Rory Sabbatini and Stewart Cink tied for third at 9-under 279, and Justin Leonard was fifth at 7-under 281. Phil Mickelson, who was also making his 2008 debut, tied for sixth at 6-under 282.
All were left to ponder whether or not they can catch up to Woods, who said he's yet to consider his place among golf's all-time greats.
"My career is not done yet," said the 32-year-old Woods. "Hopefully my good years are still ahead of me."
January 28, 2008
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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