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Tiger Woods clinches title with closing 66

Tiger Woods has two trophies he can use as bookends for a year like no other.

It started 322 days ago down the coast at Torrey Pines when he won his first tournament of the year in a playoff at the Buick Invitational. It ended Sunday at the Target World Challenge with a 6-under 66 that allowed Woods to blow past U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy and win his tournament for the third time in eight years.

In between came a massive loss with the May 3 death of his father, a missed cut for the first time in a major, then six months of golf that Woods considers his best ever.

The benchmark always has been 2000, when his nine PGA Tour victories included three straight majors. He won 53 percent of his PGA Tour events this year -- eight of 15 -- including the final two majors.

"I think if you compare the two years, I think this year would have to be better because of, obviously, things I've been dealing with off the golf course," Woods said. "In 2000, I didn't have to deal with that. Hey, life is full of mysteries and you've got to deal with things as they come. Who's to know that if Dad didn't struggle and end up passing that I wouldn't have played that well in the summer."

The question for the 16-man field he beat: How much better will he get?

Since missing the cut at the U.S. Open, Woods hasn't finished worse than second in stroke play, winning his final six PGA Tour events of the year, and closing out 2006 with a victory that doesn't count in the record books, but means plenty to Woods.

He finished at 16-under 272, and again donated his prize money -- $1.35 million -- to the Tiger Woods Foundation, with the money distributed between the Tiger Woods Learning Center and his Start Something program for kids.

Starting the day one shot behind Ogilvy, Woods made up ground quickly. He holed a 10-foot birdie putt on the par-5 second hole and chipped in for birdie from 20 feet on the par-3 third. Ogilvy got unlucky with a clump of mud on his ball at No. 2 that led to bogey, and he was never able to recover.

"I knew starting the day I would have to shoot 5 or 6 under to win," Ogilvy said after his 71. "Maybe that's why you never play well when he's there, because you try too hard to shoot a score. Golf is very hard when you're trying to shoot a low score."

Chris DiMarco closed with a 71 to finish another shot behind in third.

Woods had said Saturday evening that pars would not be good enough, and he played that way. After a bogey from the bunker on No. 4, he hit fairway metal at the flag on the par-5 fifth to about 20 feet behind the hole for a two-putt birdie, then poured it on with a 20-foot birdie on the seventh.

The only scoreboard along the front nine is behind the fourth green, but Woods never saw it.

"I had just made bogey, so I wasn't too happy," Woods said. "My head was down."

He saw the next one behind the ninth green, surprised to see himself with a two-shot lead, and he promptly buried a 12-foot birdie putt to take a three-shot lead to the back nine. When he played his pitching wedge off the slope on the 10th green to 5 feet for his third birdie in four holes, he was at 15 under and cruising.

"Once you get the lead out here, the guys behind me ... if they get aggressive, they can make mistakes," Woods said. "The whole idea is to force them to get me."

No one came particularly close.

DiMarco made an unlikely birdie on the 10th to reach 12 under, but failed to birdie the par-5 11th and took bogey on the next hole. Ogilvy still had hope, and for good reason.

Ahead of him, Woods' tee shot on the par-3 15th sailed well over the green, leading to bogey. Ogilvy had a birdie putt on the 14th that would have pulled him within one shot, but he got too aggressive and three-putted for bogey. Woods followed with a birdie, the lead was back to four shots and it was just a matter of finishing after that.

Woods had only one shaky moment on the 16th, when his lie between a bunker and the hazard was so awkward that he had to grip the steel shaft of his sand wedge. He plopped the shot to 8 feet and made birdie.

Next up for Woods is a skiing holiday with his family. The next question is when he returns.

Woods, who skipped the final five PGA Tour events -- including the Tour Championship -- has not said whether he will start his 2007 season at the winners-only Mercedes-Benz Championship in Hawaii on Jan. 4, or wait until the Buick Invitational three weeks later.

Whenever he returns, expectations will be as high as ever.

In PGA Tour record books, Woods has a six-tournament winning streak. He was more concerned with finishing second in his last two tournaments in Asia, not wanting to end the year like that.

"To play four rounds against a quality field like this and come out on top, it always gives you a shot of confidence going into next year," Woods said.

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