ORLANDO, Fla. &
This victory came with so many spoils, none of which Tiger Woods cared about at the moment.
He seemed oblivious to his PGA Tour winning streak that now stands at five, the third time he has put together so many consecutive wins. He wasn't concerned about capturing the Arnold Palmer Invitational for the fifth time, earning him another spot in the record books. Nor was he thinking about career victory No. 64, tying him with Ben Hogan at No. — on the all-time list.
Woods simply was trying to figure out why his hat was in the hands of caddie Steve Williams.
His one-shot victory Sunday was so intense that Woods went blank after holing a 25-foot birdie putt that caused pandemonium around the 18th hole at Bay Hill, and heartache for Bart Bryant, the unlikely challenger who gave Woods his stiffest test in seven months.
"When Stevie handed me my hat, I was like, 'How in the hell did he get my hat?'" Woods said. "Evidently, it came off. I don't know how it came off, but it came off. I need to see the highlights."
Where to start?
He was seven shots behind going into the weekend until making birdie on the three toughest holes at Bay Hill to forge a tie. And he pulled off the clutch shots &
and putt &
with the tournament on the line.
The only surprise was the celebration.
He was tied with Bryant coming to the 18th hole when he produced what Woods called his best swing of the week, a 5-iron from 164 yards into a stiff breeze over the water to a skinny green with bunkers behind it. Then came a 25-foot putt that he was trying to make, without hitting it so hard that it left him a tough putt in case he missed.
As it crept toward the cup, Woods backpedaled &
nothing new there &
and when it tumbled in for a final birdie, he turned and removed his cap, spiking it to the ground and letting out a roar that was drowned out by thousands of sun-baked fans who were swept up in the moment, even if they had seen it before.
"I was so into the moment of the putt going in and winning the golf tournament," Woods said. "I kept telling myself, 'I've done this before. I did it against Phil. And this time, it's a little bit deeper into the green, and the putt has a little bit more break, and it has a little more grain. I've done it before and I can do it again.'"
That would be Phil Mickelson in 2001, the last time Woods made a birdie on the 72nd hole for a one-shot victory.
This time, the opponent was Bryant, a 45-year-old who showed more moxie that guys with a far greater pedigree. Bryant made two birdies, two clutch saves, shot 67 and became the only player to break par all four rounds at Bay Hill.
And it still wasn't enough.
He sat in the scoring trailer, which didn't have a television, and told the official he would just listen to the crowd for the result.
"I heard a big cheer, and I got up and left," Bryant said. "That's why he's Tiger Woods."
The final birdie gave Woods a 4-under 66 and another memory in a year already loaded with them.
And it's only March, still one month before the Masters.
There was that eight-shot victory at Torrey Pines, winning four straight holes late in a first-round match against J.B. Holmes in Arizona. Even when he went overseas to Dubai, Woods chipped in twice and birdied the last hole to win again.
It's a complicated winning streak, and the easiest way to explain it is that he hasn't lost since September.
Woods now has won five straight on the PGA Tour dating to the BMW Championship at Cog Hill outside Chicago. His scoring average is 66.13 during that stretch, and he is a combined 74 under par.
He has won six straight worldwide, which includes the victory in Dubai. And he won the Target World Challenge in December by seven shots, although that doesn't count because it's unofficial and had only 16 players.
"What he's doing right now, you can't even fathom," Bryant said.
There have been five winning streaks of at least five tournaments in PGA Tour history. Woods owns three of them, and the others belong to Hogan (six) and ron Nelson, whose 11 in a row is considered among the most untouchable records in all of sports.
Woods won Bay Hill for the fifth time, becoming the first player in PGA Tour history to win at least five times in four different tournaments. The others are the Buick Invitational, Bridgestone Invitational and the CA Championship, where he plays next week at Doral as the three-time defending champion.
No wonder some are starting to question whether he will lose again.
Palmer knew what was coming, telling those around him that Woods was going to make the birdie. Never mind that he hadn't made a putt longer than 20 feet the previous 71 holes.
"He just said, 'It doesn't surprise me you made the putt,'" said Woods, who finished at 10-under 270. "Somehow you just get a good feeling. And he being a player knows better than anybody."
Hogan won 64 times over 21 years, the last victory coming at the 1959 Colonial National Invitational. The next target for Woods is Jack Nicklaus at 73, with Sam Snead's record of 82 victories looking closer each time Woods plays.
"It's pretty amazing to be in that kind of company," Woods said. "I've had an amazing run in my career, and hopefully, it continues."
No one can say these guys are laying down for Woods. He had to fight to the finish under a sweltering sun, and Bryant was visibly disappointed when he heard the roar and saw the putt. A victory would have sent him to the World Golf Championship next week, and earned him a spot in the Masters.
"I was pretty hopeless sitting there in the trailer, but I did what I thought I was supposed to do, which was put the pressure back on Tiger to make the play," Bryant said. "And he has a habit of making it when he needs to."
Woods sinks long putt to clinch fifth straight win
ORLANDO, Fla. &