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Tiger Woods is back in control

The World Golf Championships were created to bring together the best players from around the globe. They have turned into an annuity for the world's No. 1 player.

In the year Tiger Woods won his 10th major championship, his playoff victory over hard-luck John Daly in the American Express Championship was his 10th world title since this series began in 1999. He has finished out of the top 10 only twice in 19 starts, both of them early exits from the fickle Match Play Championship.

``I've given Tiger Woods enough of these trophies, so I'm going to let someone else do it,'' PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said at the presentation Sunday afternoon at Harding Park.

Before posing with the trophy, Woods lifted the lid and peeked inside, as if he were expecting some bonus cash.

Like he needs it.

The $1.3 million check brought his career earnings in the World Golf Championships to $12,977,000, more money than all but 35 players have made in their PGA Tour careers.

This one capped a remarkable season, even though he has two tour events left before embarking on a global journey that will take him from China to Japan to Hawaii to the California desert in a span of three weeks.

With a career-high $9.9 million, he is closing in on another money title and might be able to break Vijay Singh's record for earnings if Woods were to win at either Disney or the Tour Championship. The gap in the world ranking released Monday is the widest it has been in two years.

``I've worked really hard to get to this point, to a point where I can compete,'' Woods said. ``Each and every week, I feel as if I just play my game, I should have a chance come the back nine, and that's where you want to get to.''

In some respects, that's what has made this year different from most.

Woods is the best closer in golf, having won 33 out of 36 times on the PGA Tour with at least a share of the 54-hole lead. Going into this season, he had not won from behind since 2001, when he outlasted Jim Furyk in a seven-hole playoff at the NEC Invitational (another WGC victory).

This year, he has had to rally in three of his six victories.

Two of them were engaging duels against players who get more crowd support than Woods -- Phil Mickelson at Doral, Daly at Harding Park.

Woods vs. Mickelson in early March was a heavyweight battle of power and skill, where Woods hit a 3-wood some 300 yards for an eagle to take the lead, and eventually won when Mickelson's chip on the 18th green somehow stayed out of the cup.

Woods vs. Daly was even more compelling.

Despite his two majors, Daly cannot be considered among the world's elite players because he misses more cuts and posts too many big numbers to be a consistent threat. He makes up for that with his personality and appeal, not to mention his unbridled power and style of play to which everyday players can relate.

Standing on the 18th tee, the first hole of the sudden-death playoff, Woods was the model of precision and focus as he took slow practice swings and tried to ingrain the shot into his head. Facing the most daunting tee shot at Harding Park -- over Lake Merced and a row of cypress trees to a narrow fairway -- Daly stepped up to the ball, gave it a rip, then reached over to pick up his cigarette before the ball reached the peak of its flight.

If this were a rock concert -- and it sure sounded like one -- Daly is ZZ Top, Woods is Lionel Ritchie.

Fans are in awe of Woods. They relate to Daly.

Woods talks about golf and little else -- the arc of his trajectory, the pattern of his divot, the shape of his shot.

Daly talks about life.

``Our tour has got quite a bit more money than the European tour does, but only a few of us get to hang out in the States,'' he said earlier in the week. ``We've either got a trainer or a psychologist following the guys, and my entourage is a bunch of drunks having a good time.''

He opened with three 67s for a one-shot lead, and figured another one would win the tournament. Someone then asked Daly if he had ever done anything four straight times.

``Only divorces,'' Daly said.

They first played together in the opening two rounds of the '96 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills, when Daly was the reigning British Open champion and Woods was a 20-year-old amateur at Stanford.

Sunday was the first time they had ever gone shot-for-shot in the final round. They were separated by one group, but it was a duel of 350-yard drives, yet it all came down to a 3-foot putt.

Daly, who had three-putted from 30 feet on the 17th to let Woods back into tournament, three-putted from 15 feet on the second extra hole to hand Woods another world title.

``He's a champion, and he's won so many golf tournaments,'' Daly said. ``I was probably feeling a little bit more heat than he was. You just hate to lose that way, and I know he hated to win that way.''

Then again, Woods seems to find a way in these World Golf Championships.

October 11, 2005

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