by Rusty Miller
DUBLIN, Ohio (AP)—For those who thought Tiger Woods’ run as the world’s best golfer was over, the 747-sized roar that emanated from the 16th green at Muirfield Village likely shocked them to their senses.
|TIES NICKLAUS’ RECORD FOR TOUR WINS—Jack Nicklaus, left, talks with Tiger Woods after Woods won the Memorial golf tournament at the Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, June 3. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
With one flick of his wrists, Woods reminded everyone of who he was and what he has done.
Woods slid a 60-degree sand wedge under a ball hidden by tall grass behind the 16th green, popped the ball straight up into the air where it seemed to hang for an instant, and then watched as it rolled ever so slowly toward the cup before dropping in for a 50-foot birdie that tied him for the lead at the Memorial Tournament on Sunday.
If that birdie served notice, then another on a sneaky-fast 10-foot downhill putt at the 18th assured him of his fifth victory at the tournament that Jack Nicklaus built.
So, Tiger was asked, do you think you’re back?
“I won,” he joked with a wide smile. “I’m sure by Tuesday I’ll be retired and done, and then by the time I tee it up at the U.S. Open (at Olympic Club in San Francisco in 11 days) it might be something different. But I’ll let you guys figure that out.”
Adding to the weight of the moment, the win tied Woods with Nicklaus—the tournament founder and host who handed him the crystal trophy on the 18th green—with 73 tour wins for second behind Sam Snead’s record 82.
Woods said it was “awfully special” to tie Nicklaus at the Golden Bear’s own tournament.
“Well, he had to rub it in my face right here, didn’t he?” Nicklaus cracked.
Then he added, “The last time he won here three years ago, he came here struggling a little bit and just absolutely blitzed it. And he did it again this week.”
Woods, four shots back and in fourth place at the start of the final round, closed with a 67 to match the best round of the day. He also saved his best for last, birdieing three of the final four holes under pressure conditions to make up a two-shot deficit as he teed off on the 15th hole.
After a big drive, he hit a 3-iron second shot on the par-5 15th to 40 feet past the flag. He two-putted for birdie. At the 16th, he hit an 8-iron that rode the wind and bounced off the green and about 15 feet into deep grass. A little too soft a shot and he would be left with a treacherous, twisting putt for par. Catch it a little thin and the ball could easily run all the way through the green and into a pond.
The sonic boom that erupted when the ball fell shook the whole course. The rest of the field, those who didn’t already know anyway, were reminded that Woods still can summon the thunder.
“Well, obviously, I knew something was going on up in front,” said Rory Sabbatini, who held a one-shot lead until Woods’ chip-in.
Rickie Fowler, one of the game’s most popular young players, was paired with Woods in a grouping that drew thousands of spectators. Fowler suffered through a miserable day that would end with him shooting a career-worst 84. But at the 16th, he knew he was witnessing some magic he’d seen before from Woods.
“It came out perfect,” Fowler said of the shot. “It landed right on the crown of that ridge there—and the rest is history.”
Nicklaus called it a shot for the ages.
“I’ve seen a lot of shots in golf,” he said during the presentation ceremony. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better one.”
Woods sounded as if even he didn’t expect it to fall.
“The shot was obviously difficult, but it wouldn’t have been so bad if I had a good lie,” Woods said. “The lie was just a little marginal where it brought the water into play. That’s the reason I took such a big cut at it. I went for it, I pulled it off and for it to land as soft as it did was kind of a surprise.”
Still, he was only tied. While he was parring the 17th hole, Sabbatini bogeyed the 16th.
Woods striped a 3 wood off the tee at the testy, uphill, par-4 closing hole. Then he carved an iron to the back of the green and watched it follow the contour of the green back to almost pin high. He slid the ball in on the high side for a 9-under 279.
Andres Romero also had a 67 to pull into a tie with Sabbatini (72) for second, two shots back.
Woods hadn’t won a full-field event since 2009 before taking the Arnold Palmer Invitational in late March. He had missed a cut and finished tied for 40th in his only two tournaments after that, including the Masters. The whispers about his professional demise were growing louder.
But then came the shot at 16, with Woods orchestrating the cheers with several of his trademark fist pumps.
After he had accepted the trophy from Nicklaus and the $1.1 million that went with it, and after he had moved to No. 4 in the world rankings, Woods was asked if at 36 he still has enough to play at the same level of excellence from his earlier days.
“Uh-huh,” he said.
What he had just done did all the speaking for him.
TIMES HAVE CHANGED: Counting only what Woods has won in his 73 victories from 1996-2012, Woods has earned $66,319,241. Nicklaus received $2,380,277 just for his 73 victories between 1962 and 1986.