AKRON, Ohio – The battle was everything Tiger Woods expected. The finish was nothing anyone imagined, except for Woods hoisting another World Golf Championship trophy at Firestone.
Woods was in trouble in the trees on the famous par-5 16th hole, one shot behind Padraig Harrington, trying to figure out how he could squeeze out a victory Sunday in the Bridgestone Invitational.
He delivered another signature moment, this one an eight-iron from 178 that wound up a foot from the hole for birdie. Moments later, with an official timing his every shot, Padraig Harrington rushed his way into a stunning meltdown. He hit five straight shots without losing his turn, made triple bogey and became a mere bystander the final two holes as Woods won for the 70th time in his career.
Woods closed with a 5-under 65, becoming the first player in PGA Tour history to win seven times on the same golf course and giving him back-to-back victories going into the PGA Championship, his last chance to win a major this year.
Mike Weir of Bright’s Grove, Ont., shot even-par 70 on the day to finish alone in 10th, eight shots back.
Woods won it with an eight-iron that was pure theatre.
“When I hit it, I knew it was going to be a good one,” he said. “I thought it was going to be just a little bit past the hole. I was surprised it spun that much considering it was that much downwind. But it came back and ended up a kick-in.”
He believes Harrington lost it with a stopwatch that was unnecessary.
They were timed earlier in the round, then told by John Paramor, the PGA European Tour’s chief referee, they were on the clock on the 16th tee, with Harrington in the lead by one shot. Knowing he had no time to contemplate his escape from the trees, the collar of a bunker and a dicey flop shot behind the green, he turned the hole known as “The Monster” into an utter mess.
The pivotal play was his fourth shot behind the green, which came out hot and into the water.
“I had an awkward fourth shot,” Harrington said. “I had to go after it and probably rushed that a bit. That was the end of that.”
Harrington told Woods when it was over, “We’ll do battle many times again.”
Woods, who holds the three-time major champion in high esteem, looked forward to that.
“Like I was telling him out there, ‘I’m sorry that John got in the way of a great battle,’ because it was such a great battle for 16 holes,” Woods said. “We’re going at it, head-to-head, and unfortunately that happened. Paddy and I will definitely do it again.”
Asked if he won because of an eight-iron or a stopwatch, Woods replied, “Both.”
Paramor said the final pairing was 17 minutes behind schedule on the 16th hole and “we had no choice but to put them on the clock.”
The dispute clouded an otherwise remarkable rally for Woods, who won his 16th title in just 30 starts in the World Golf Championships series, and picked up a lot of momentum headed to Hazeltine.
Woods, who has won the Bridgestone Invitational seven times in 10 starts and has never finished out of the top five, closed out his remarkable afternoon in style with a six-foot birdie putt.
His fifth victory this year and 70th of his PGA Tour career put him three behind Jack Nicklaus, and 12 victories away from the all-time record held by Sam Snead.
“We locked horns pretty good,” Woods said. “I made a couple of mistakes. Paddy was being consistent, grinding it out, doing all the right things. Unfortunately, 16 happened. But it was a great battle all day.”
It was every bit of that.
Woods won for only the sixth time in his career when trailing by three shots or more, a deficit that didn’t last long.
He hit his approach into the par-5 second hole just over the bunkers to 25 feet to make eagle, and two more birdies was enough for him to take the lead after only five holes. From the right rough on the ninth fairway – a rare miss on the front nine – Woods hit to seven feet for a birdie that gave him a 30 on the outward nine and a two-shot lead.
Harrington, a three-time major champion with a tough mind, kept grinding away with pars and regained a share of the lead with his first birdie of the day on the 11th. And when Woods made consecutive bogeys, Harrington found himself with a one-shot lead heading for the homestretch.
What cost Harrington was his second shot from the trees, which he tried to land some 80 yards short of the green. Instead, he pulled the five-iron to the grassy slope of the bunker, and had to decide quickly his next move after watching Woods stuff the eight-iron.
“It was a superb golf shot. It was a phenomenal shot,” Harrington said. “I struggled to hit that green with a lob wedge, so it was pretty impressive. But I was having my own troubles at that stage.”
From behind the green, the shot is all down hill toward the water. Harrington could have played sideways and assured himself of a bogey, but he figured a par was his chance to win the tournament.
“I just got it a little bit too much on the club face and didn’t get under it enough, and it came out too strong,” he said.
The four-shot swing was the tournament. For the first time all day, Woods finally felt in control.
Ultimately, the winner didn’t surprise anyone.
Hunter Mahan, who shot 66 and tied for fourth, looked up at the leaderboard early in his round and saw that Woods already had erased a three-shot deficit after four holes.
“That’s what he does,” Mahan said. “He could play this course left-handed and do well.”
A short time later, Camilo Villegas left the clubhouse and passed by the British-based Sky Sports broadcast crew watching on TV. Woods and Harrington were on the 12th hole.
“What are you watching for? You know what’s going to happen,” Villegas said with a smile.
The final hour was full of surprises, except for Woods winning at Firestone.