A potential rivalry for the ages was forged today at Medinah Country Club in the 81st PGA Championship. Tiger Woods willed himself to a stirring one-shot victory over 19-year-old Spaniard Sergio Garcia, providing a glorious glimpse at the future of golf in the next millennium.
Woods nearly squandered a five-shot advantage he held over Garcia by playing his last seven holes in 4 over par. But his brilliant shotmaking earlier in the round, coupled with a clutch par-saving, eight-foot putt at the 17th and a routine two-putt par from 15 feet at the final hole left him emotionally drained but exulting nonetheless over his second major championship triumph in three years.
"I've given myself chances, I've come close, I've been right there," Woods, 23, said after ending a streak of 10 straight majors without a win since his 12-shot victory at the 1997 Masters. "Sometimes you just need a little bit of luck to go your way. To finally get number two is definitely a relief. Now I don't have to keep answering the questions anymore."
Almost always the darling of the galleries, Woods also found himself occasionally being taunted by crowds who jumped on Garcia's boisterous bandwagon over the back nine. Still, Woods kept his composure under pressure and finished with an even-par 72 and for a 72-hole total of 11-under 277.
"I was having a lot of fun," Woods said. "But I couldn't afford to show any kind of emotion because of the way the fans were. They were saying some things they shouldn't have said. I could tell the crowds were changing [toward Garcia] when some guy yelled out, `A thousand dollars you don't slice it in the water on 17.' . . . I didn't think that was fair."
Woods got some early pressure from two-time PGA champion Nick Price, who was 4 under after nine holes and 11 under through 12 before he made back-to-back bogeys and a double at 16 to finish fifth. Jay Haas, the 36-hole leader, shot 70 -- 280 and tied for third with 26-year-old Stewart Cink. Canadian Mike Weir, tied with Woods after 54 holes at 11 under, folded early with a disheartening run of lip-out putts and shot 80 -- 285 to tie for 10th.
Garcia had lifted himself to 11 under through 14, but his bogey at the 15th and inability to make a birdie over the last three holes ultimately cost the youngest player in the field his first major title. Everyone must now know his 89-83 horror in the recent British Open in Carnoustie, Scotland, was an aberration, especially after a 71 for 10-under 278. He is the youngest runner-up in PGA Championship history, and arguably the most charismatic, as well.
"Sergio played a wonderful round of golf," Woods said. "He did what he needed to do, and he should be commended for not only the way he played but the way he conducted himself. He was emotional, yes. But he was fiery. He was trying. He never dogged it, and it was wonderful to see."
Said Garcia, "It was so exciting, the best week of my life. I've never had so much fun playing golf."
Woods took a five-shot lead on the 11th hole, but made bogey on No. 12 and double bogey on No. 13 as Garcia sank an 18-foot birdie putt at the 13th.
The eruption on the green was deafening, and after he picked his ball from the cup, Garcia looked across the water toward Woods, not so much a defiant glare but one that indicated Woods -- then three ahead -- could not expect to win in a walk-over.
"I wanted him to know that I was still there and that he had to finish well to win," Garcia said. "But it wasn't [meant to be] a bad thing. I did it with good feelings, not hoping now make a triple bogey, or whatever. I was kind of telling him, if you want to win, you must play well."
Woods clearly didn't get the message. For one, he insisted he never even saw Garcia look back because he was too focused on his own game. For another, he air-mailed his 6-iron over the green and into a clump of high grass. With a dicey lie, he chipped his ball over to the other side to even thicker grass, chipped to 10 feet, then needed two putts for a double bogey.
It stayed that way until the 389-yard 15th. Garcia pushed his 2-iron tee shot to the right rough, underneath an overhanging tree limb. He still managed to muscle a spectacular 7-iron up and over the green, but a difficult chip left him eight feet from the pin, and he missed the par putt.
Now Woods had a two-shot cushion, and he needed it. He bogeyed the 16th from the bunker a few minutes after Garcia hit what surely was the shot of the tournament, perhaps the year.
Garcia's drive landed at the base of a tree, 189 yards from the pin, and he took plenty of time to determine his path to the green. He picked a 6-iron, took a mighty swing with his eyes shut, then fell backward instinctively in case the ball ricocheted off the trunk.
When Garcia opened his eyes and saw the ball slicing toward the green, he made a mad dash up the fairway and jumped high for a better view as it came to rest 55 feet from the cup. Garcia's putt fell about three rolls short of making what would have been one of the most improbable birdies in PGA history, but instead settled for par.
He had decent birdie chances at the last two holes, missing two 15-footers, either one of which would have forced a playoff. Woods, meanwhile, clinging to that one-shot lead at the 206-yard 17th, again hit his 7-iron tee shot over the green into the deep rough. With an awkward downhill stance, he managed to hack the ball to eight feet, then made the clutch putt to keep a lead he never did relinquish all day.
At the 18th, he hit a towering 3-wood safely in the middle of the fairway, about 125 yards from the pin, then struck a perfect pitching wedge to 12 feet. He cozied his first putt a foot short and made the easy tap-in for par, for the Wanamaker Trophy, for a $630,000 champion's check and for the No. 1 ranking in the world.
Soon there were hugs all around, from his mother Kutilda, his girlfriend Joanna Jagota, with a long embrace for his teacher, Butch Harmon. He's helped Woods rebuild and fine-tune his swing well enough that in his last six PGA Tour events, Woods has won three times, with two seventh-place finishes and a tie for third in the U.S. Open.
Still, perhaps the most noteable exchange of all occurred just before Woods went in to sign his scorecard. He was met not far from the green by Garcia, and they put their arms around each other in a gesture of genuine mutual respect and affection.
"I said when I turned pro that I wanted to be the number one golfer in the world," Garcia said. "So I knew I was going to be rival for Tiger. I also said I wanted it to be a rivalry, but always being friends, like we did today."
Said Woods, "He's a wonderful kid."