THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — At this rate, Tiger Woods probably can’t wait for the 2005 season to start.
Woods turned in his most complete round of a difficult year yesterday, missing only two fairways and one green in closing with a 5-under 66 for a two-shot victory over Padraig Harrington in the Target World Challenge.
It was Woods’ second straight stroke-play title after going without one on the PGA Tour for the first time in his career.
Woods won the Dunlop Phoenix on the Japanese tour last month by eight shots. The Target World Challenge is the last of the silly-season events and doesn’t count as an official victory.
Still, Woods beat an elite 16-man field with a game that is starting to look vaguely familiar.
“Every shot I wanted to hit, I hit,” Woods said.
He finished at 16-under 268 and won $1.25 million, which he donated to his foundation.
Harrington, who held off Woods at Sherwood Country Club two years ago, got into contention with a 31 on the front nine, then kept pace until a couple of errant shots cost him on the final three holes.
The Irishman hit his approach into a hazard on the par-5 16th, but had a chance to play out toward the green. It went into a bush, he had to knock that out left-handed and wound up with a bogey. After a clutch birdie on the 17th to get back within one shot, Harrington drove into rough so thick he had no chance to reach the 18th green.
He closed with a bogey for a 66, his only consolation a $750,000 check.
Colin Montgomerie, who had a two-shot lead and was trying to win his first stroke-play title in the United States, bogeyed the first hole and never caught up. He shot 71 and finished at 13-under 271 with Jay Haas (69).
Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 70 to finish another stroke behind.
Woods was coming off his worst season on the PGA Tour. His only victory was the Match Play Championship in late February, he failed to seriously contend on the back nine of any major and he lost his No. 1 ranking to Vijay Singh in September outside Boston.
But the swing changes he began in March appear to be taking hold, and the last month has been proof.
So was yesterday.
Woods had full command of every shot, and there would not have been much drama if he could have made a putt. He missed six birdie chances inside 15 feet, and his longest putt for par was 8 feet.
That might have been the biggest, however.
Playing in the group behind Harrington, Woods pulled his 2-iron into a tree next to the 16th green and had to punch into the thick rough guarding the green. As he was starting his downswing on a flop shot, a man on the bridge yelled out, “C’mon Woods!”
Woods dropped the club in disgust as sheriff’s deputies took the man away. He backed off the par putt, and he and caddie Steve Williams pumped fists when it dropped to protect a two-shot margin.
He kept his distance by hitting within 20 feet the last two holes. The only green Woods missed was a 5-iron out of thick rough on the 485-yard 11th hole that trickled off the putting surface and sat up in the first cut.
“I felt very comfortable with my swing,” Woods said.
It was a good test under pressure, thanks to Harrington.
Woods quickly made up ground on Montgomerie with a 10-foot birdie on the opening hole, a bunker shot to 6 feet for birdie on the par-5 second and a 240-yard 6-iron into 30 feet for a two-putt birdie on the par-5 fifth.
Harrington proved to be the threat with a 31 on the front.
“I figured Monty or Jay was going to put something up on the front,” Woods said. “I didn’t think Harrington would shoot 5 under. I had to keep pace, and I felt like I did that.”