It's come to this, players apologizing, as Woods wins his third straight Memorial. Next up: U.S. Open.
© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 4, 2001
DUBLIN, Ohio -- Any chance Paul Azinger had of beating Tiger Woods had long since faded as the two walked together down the soggy 17th fairway. There wasn't much to talk about, but something needed to be said.
Azinger had entered the final round of the Memorial Tournament with the lead, but he now was seven shots behind. He thought Woods looked almost bored as he romped to his third straight Memorial win.
"I'm sorry I wasn't a better player for you today," Azinger told Woods.
He needn't have apologized. The sorry thing for Azinger is that it probably didn't make any difference.
An era of dominance not seen in recent history continued Sunday in a tournament founded by the game's previous greatest player as Woods powered his way to a seven-stroke win over Azinger and Sergio Garcia.
Even host Jack Nicklaus watched in awe as Woods came from a shot behind with a final-round 66 in a tournament that was all but over by the time the leaders headed toward the back nine.
"Certainly since I've been playing the sport I've never found anyone who dominated more," Nicklaus said. "In other sports guys have dominated, but I don't think anyone has dominated like he has."
Azinger went even further.
"I would say he's probably the most dominant athlete in the history of sports," Azinger said.
That may be open for debate, but Woods' greatness at the age of 25 is not.
Winning for the fifth time this year and 37th time since turning pro less than five years ago, Woods added to a legend that seems to grow by the week with a 2-iron shot on the fifth hole that stunned his playing partners and turned the tournament around.
After that it came easy in his final tuneup for the U.S. Open at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla., where he will go in as a prohibitive favorite for an unthinkable fifth consecutive major championship.
"Not too much amazes me anymore, but it's still amazing," Nicklaus said.
Woods played 22 holes in 7 under on a day when he had to finish a suspended third round, then go out and chase Azinger's one-shot advantage in the final round.
It didn't take long, not with the 2-iron on No. 5 that flew 249 yards over land and water before dropping softly on the green and leaving Woods a 4-foot putt for eagle.
"A moon shot," is how Azinger described it.
Even Woods was impressed.
"I'm amazed by some of the shots I was able to pull off this week," he said. "If I wanted to step up there and hit a 2-iron 250 yards in the air and I was able to do it, I did it consistently. That, to me, is kind of cool."
What was really cool, though, was the methodical and precise way with which Woods made his way around Muirfield Village Golf Club, while his opponents were hitting shots into the water, missing key putts and whiffing chips.
Woods dominated on the par 5s, where he was 14 under for the week and with his length able to get on in two even when opponents had no chance.
"I put myself in a position to win. That always gives you confidence knowing you have done it in the past," Woods said.
Woods made one bogey, from a greenside bunker on No. 8, and when he hit a wayward shot off the No. 14 tee, it hit a tree branch and popped out into the light rough. Woods birdied the hole.
Azinger was leading by one on the par-5, 527-yard 5th but had put a 3-wood into the water fronting the green when Woods stood in the middle of the fairway and hit the shot that nestled near the flag.
The crowd had been relatively subdued to that point but erupted when Woods hit the shot and then again a few minutes later when he made the eagle putt to take the lead for good.
"After Paul hit his shot I needed to get the ball on dry land," Woods said. "I was lucky enough to make 3."
Azinger bogeyed the hole and the next, and by the time Woods tapped in a short birdie putt on the par-5 seventh he had a three-shot lead over Azinger and Stuart Appleby and it never got any closer.
Azinger finished with 2-over 74. Garcia had a final-round 71. Appleby, who played with Woods in the final group and was two back at one point, shot 74 that included a quadruple-bogey at No. 12.
Woods is the first player to win the same tournament three years in a row since Tom Watson won three Byron Nelson Classics (1978-80).
"It's like trying to make an unmakeable putt," Garcia said of trying to catch Woods.