Woods stays perfect with a dramatic putt to win

Tiger Woods made a 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole Sunday to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational by one shot, extending his PGA Tour winning streak to five and keeping intact a perfect season in golf.

In his biggest challenge since this streak began seven months ago, Woods outlasted 45-year-old Bart Bryant and won with a birdie putt on the final hole for the first time in seven years. He turned and slammed his cap to the ground, letting out a roar to celebrate his 64th career victory, tying Ben Hogan at No. 3 on the PGA Tour’s career list.

Palmer stood behind the 18th green with thousands of sun-baked fans who have come to expect nothing less from Woods. The King smiled and nodded his head, a royal approval of a captivating conclusion at Bay Hill.

Woods closed with a 6-under 66 and won Bay Hill for the fifth time in his career, becoming the first player in PGA Tour history to win four tournaments at least five times.

Next up is the CA Championship at Doral, which he has won six times. No wonder some are starting to question whether he will lose again.

Bryant felt hopeless, no different from so many other victims of Woods.

He hit all the right shots on the back nine to keep pressure on the world’s No. 1 player, and was sitting in the scoring trailer when the largest crowd in golf this year erupted in cheers when the birdie putt fell.

“That’s why he’s Tiger Woods,” Bryant said. “He has an incredible way of pulling off the shot or the putt when he needs to. He’s done it before. He’ll do it again.”

Not since Bay Hill in 2001 has Woods won a PGA Tour event with a birdie on the 72nd hole to win by a shot.

“I don’t know how I did that,” Woods said of his winning putt on greens that had given him fits early in the week. “I just wanted to get the speed right and make sure I didn’t leave myself a second putt … and it went in.”

The last time he played, he surpassed Palmer on the career list. This one allowed him to join Hogan, who won 64 times over 21 years, the last victory coming at the 1959 Colonial National Invitational.

Next up 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 also earned him a spot in the Masters.

Bryant closed with a 67 and was the only player to break par all four rounds at Bay Hill. All that earned him was second place, joining a long list of players to be runner-up to the world’s No. 1 player.

“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 has won six straight times worldwide, which includes a thrilling rally in Dubai last month. The winning streak does not include his seven-shot victory at his 16-man Target World Challenge, an unofficial event held in December.

His average score during the PGA Tour streak is 66.13, and his dominance is such that he now has more career victories than Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh combined.

Woods finished at 10-under 270 and earned $1,044,000, putting him on the cusp of going over $80 million for his career.

DOUG FERGUSON

http://sports.yahoo.com/golf/pga/news?slug=ap-bayhill

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