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Tiger triumphs in 7-hole playoff

Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk put on a spectacle at the NEC Invitational, culminating with Woods' 29th victory in a 2-hour sudden-death playoff.

©Associated Press

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 27, 2001

AKRON, Ohio -- In an epic battle that featured superb shots and great escapes, Tiger Woods ended his winless summer with a birdie Sunday on the seventh playoff hole to defeat Jim Furyk in the NEC Invitational.

After they exchanged pars for six holes, hardly any of them conventional, Woods hit a wedge within 2 feet of the hole on No. 18 to end the longest playoff on the PGA Tour in 10 years.

"It was a war today," said Woods, who started the final round two strokes behind. "Neither one of us gave an inch. It was fun to be a part of it."

It was a thrilling display of shots and saves over the final 13 holes, seven of them in the sudden-death playoff.

Furyk holed a bunker shot to save par on the first extra hole to extend the playoff. Woods escaped from the trees with a fortuitous ruling and an outstanding bump-and-run from about 50 yards. Furyk had three chances to win with birdie putts from about 12 feet.

"On every single one of them I told Stevie 'It's over,' because (Furyk) is such a great putter," Woods said, referring to his caddie, Steve Williams. "I was just very lucky that he didn't make any of them."

With one last shot, a wedge that landed just past the cup and spun back to 2 feet away, Woods won for the first time since the Memorial in early June and ended talk about what's wrong with his game.

It was his fifth victory of the year and 29th in his career, tying Jack Nicklaus for most PGA Tour victories before turning 30.

Woods won the NEC Invitational for the third straight year, making him the first to take three straight tournaments at the fabled Firestone Country Club, a course on which Nicklaus used to dominate.

He has won four of the eight World Golf Championship events that count toward official money. The $1-million payoff -- his sixth worth at least that much -- pushed him to more $25-million for a professional career that began five years ago today.

Woods improved his playoff record to 7-1 worldwide, but none went more than three holes.

Furyk kept the pressure on Woods until the end. His tee shot on the final hole wound up in the trees, and the best he could make was bogey.

"I don't feel like I let anyone down today," said Furyk, who closed with 71. "The only person I let down was myself. I can live with that. I've done it before, and I'll do it again."

It was a repeat finish for Woods, at least in terms of theatrics. A year ago, he hit a wedge about the same distance to win the NEC Invitational by 11 strokes. This was far more thrilling, neither player willing to budge during a playoff that lasted two hours.

The last time a PGA Tour event went this many holes was the 1991 New England Classic, won by Bruce Fleisher.

Woods had his eighth straight round in the 60s with 1-under 69. He and Furyk finished at 268.

Darren Clarke (69) finished three strokes behind.

No one got closer than four strokes to Furyk or Woods. This was a duel from the start, and it turned out to be one of the most hard-fought battles of the year.

Woods appeared to have it won on the first playoff hole, No. 18, when Furyk left his third shot in a bunker above the hole. He blasted out again, and the ball caught the left edge of the cup and spun 360 degrees before falling.

He charged onto the green pumping his fist to celebrate one of the best clutch shots of his career. Woods, who had lagged a 35-foot putt to 4 feet, made his par and they headed to 17.

Tiger's turn.

After hitting long into the green, his ball nestled between the first cut and thick rough, he chipped 15 feet past the hole; Furyk had 12 feet for birdie. Woods' par putt was true, but Furyk's putt for the win caught the right lip.

The 18th provided another unlikely par when Woods hooked his tee shot into the trees. He had little chance to get it back in the fairway, but claimed relief because the scoreboard was between his ball and the flag. He played a bump-and-run to 4 feet and made par after Furyk missed another 12-foot birdie putt.

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