BETHESDA, Md. – Even after 68 victories, Tiger Woods never had a finish quite like Sunday at the AT&T National.
It had nothing to do with the golf, which was all too familiar.
Challenged by Hunter Mahan’s record-tying 62 at Congressional, Woods plotted his way along the back nine and delivered the decisive birdie with a 20-foot putt on the 16th green, closing with a 3-under 67 for a one-shot victory.
The trophy presentation was unlike any other.
“I’ve always wanted to do this, so bear with me,” Woods said, cradling the silver trophy in the shape of the Capitol. Then, the tournament host interviewed the tournament champion.
In this case, it was the same guy.
“So Tiger, how did you play today?” Woods said in a mock Q&A as thousands of fans broke into laughter.
This is what Woods meant earlier in the week by wanting to be a “greedy host” at Congressional.
It was his tournament, and his show.
With three birdies in a five-hole stretch, Woods surged past Anthony Kim in a high-charged final pairing. Then came a 62 from Mahan, tying the course record at Congressional that Kim had set Thursday. With some 40,000 fans waiting to see how the final hour would unfold, Woods rolled in a 20-foot birdie and walked stoically to the cup, nodding his head.
He closed with routine pars to finish at 13-under 267 for his third victory this year, along with some uncanny coincidences.
-Woods won in his second try at the tournament he hosts, just as Jack Nicklaus won his Memorial in the second year.
-He now has won all three PGA Tour events hosted by players in one year. Woods won the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March with a birdie on the final hole, getting another hearty handshake from the King. And he won the Memorial with a final-round 65, with Nicklaus standing behind the green to congratulate him.
“It was great shaking my hand today,” Woods said.
One other coincidence: All three of his victories came in his final start before a major. Woods finished four shots behind in both the Masters and the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black two weeks ago. The next stop is the British Open in two weeks at Turnberry, on a links course Woods has never seen.
This victory was meaningful because it was his own, started three years ago. Inside the ropes, however, it felt like any other tournament that Woods was trying to win.
“You go out there with the same intensity to win,” he said.
The 68th victory of his PGA Tour career moved him to the top of the money list and FedEx Cup standings for the first time this year.
Bright’s Grove, Ont., natives Mike Weir and Matt Hill finished 48th and 70th respectively.
Mahan made six birdies on the back nine for a 62, the final birdie giving him a share of the lead. He had to wait more than an hour to see if it would hold, going into the family dining area to watch alongside Woods’ wife, Elin, and 2-year-old daughter Sam.
Woods missed a 10-foot putt on the 14th and Mahan said he jokingly cheered in a light moment.
But he knew better.
“I mean, he’s pretty good,” Mahan said. “He knows what he’s doing. He knows how to play this game better than anybody.”
Kim simply couldn’t keep up.
It was the ideal final pairing at Congressional – the world’s No. 1 player and tournament host tied with Kim, a confident 24-year-old who was the defending champion. Kim lost four shots in four holes on the front nine, and didn’t make a birdie on the back nine.
He shot a 71 to finish alone in third, four shots behind.
“I had a lot of fun,” Kim said. “I know I’ll be knocking on the door again. It’s only a matter of time. I learned if you have a birdie putt, you better make it.”
Bryce Molder closed with a 68 to finish alone in fourth, which came with a US$288,000 cheque that was worth more than money alone. It put him atop a special money list that ended Sunday, earning a trip to the British Open. The other spot from the money list went to Paul Goydos.
Brandt Snedeker, finally healthy after a rib injury, had a 68-67 weekend and tied for fifth with U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover. Snedeker also earned a spot at Turnberry as the leading player among the top five not already eligible for the British Open.
Mahan had to settle for his third straight top 10, although he put on quite a show, even if hardly anyone noticed.
Most of the 40,000 fans at Congressional scrambled for a sight of the present and the future – Woods and Kim – until Mahan started dropping in putts from everywhere on the back nine.
“I think everybody was watching AK and Tiger and expecting kind of a battle there, and I knew I just had to go low today,” Mahan said. “I figured great players up on the leaderboard like that, I figured they’d make it to at least 13 or 14 under.”
Playing with Woods for the first time – in the final pairing at Woods’ own tournament, no less – Kim walked with a swagger and a smile to the first tee, dressed in white pants and a royal blue shirt. He then smoked his driver some 25 yards past Woods, nearly holed out his wedge and tapped in for birdie for a quick advantage.
A four-hole stretch changed everything.
Kim three-putted the fifth for bogey, and Woods took the lead with an 8-iron over the water to 15 feet for birdie. Their day was summed up at the par-3 seventh, when both hit tee shots six feet away.
Kim missed, Woods made.
Kim then three-putted from 20 feet on the eighth, missing a three-foot par putt.
The threat came from Mahan, an explosive player like Kim, minus the hip-hop.
He teed off more than an hour before Woods, then poured it on along the back nine with six birdies, including a 15-foot putt on the final hole to tie the course record.
Mahan was on his way to the range when they heard a roar a half-mile away and his caddie checked his phone to see that Woods had made birdie. Mahan finished hitting balls and was headed to the putting green when a young girl approached him for an autograph.
He might not have noticed what was written on the back of her T-shirt: “Tiger’s Back.”