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Tiger Woods looking ready for PGA and major no. 12

Tiger Woods crushed drives, fired approaches at flags and made a slew of birdie putts to win the Buick Open.

When was the last time he played that well going into a major championship?

"The Western," Woods said matter-of-factly.

Woods finished tied for second at the Western Open a month ago, then went on to win the British Open.

Clearly, he looks like he'll be ready for the PGA Championship when it starts a week from Thursday.

Woods made a career-high 28 birdies in a tournament and reached a season-low 24 under by shooting his fourth straight 6-under 66 for a three-stroke win over Jim Furyk in the Buick Open.

After winning his 50th PGA Tour title, Woods said he was going home to continue his pursuit of a perfect and consistent swing.

"It's a lifelong ambition to get better," he said.

Woods has enjoyed perfection when leading by more than one stroke entering the fourth round, improving to 21-for-21 after starting Sunday with a two-shot lead. His fourth win of the year earned him $864,000 and pushed his tour-leading total to $5,127,563.

He picked up his latest win after his emotional victory in the British Open and before he tries for his 12th major at Medinah in suburban Chicago, where he hopes to close in on the record he covets: Jack Nicklaus's 18 pro major championships.

The 30-year-old Woods became the seventh member to win 50 PGA Tour events, and at 30, the youngest. Woods has made 196 PGA Tour starts as a pro and 210 overall.

Nicklaus won his 50th title in 1973 at age 33. It was his 280th start overall -- and 262nd as a professional.

Sam Snead is atop the PGA Tour's career wins list with 82, ahead of Nicklaus (73), Ben Hogan (64), Arnold Palmer (62), Byron Nelson (52) and Billy Casper (51).

Woods said he hopes he'll have enough success to catch Snead.

"It's going to be a lifetime, a career, to get to that point and attain something like that," Woods said. "It took me 10 years to get here, hopefully I can continue playing well over the next 10, 20 years."

Vaughn Taylor, who finished five shots back, was in awe of Woods.

"He's probably the greatest player to ever play the game, and we get to watch him every week," Taylor said. "I can't even imagine doing the things he's done."

This year, Woods' four victories have come in 11 events.

At Warwick Hills, where he also won in 2002, Woods likely ended any hopes his competitors had when he made four birdies on the front nine to build on his lead.

He bogeyed the 12th hole, allowing Furyk to tie him briefly. He took the lead alone for good at 13 when his approach from 105 yards landed close enough for a tap-in birdie. At 15, Woods' birdie gave him a two-shot lead and essentially clinched the victory.

After making a 7-foot par putt at 17, Woods took a two-shot lead into the final hole and was able to enjoy his latest victory stroll up the fairway where an overflow crowd cheered louder each step that he got closer to the green after Furyk finished with a 64.

Fittingly, Woods made a birdie at 18.

The top-ranked player in the world fell one stroke short of his 72-hole record of 25-under 263 from the 2002 WGC-American Express Championship. He surpassed his previous birdie record of 27, set at Pebble Beach in 1997 and matched at the 2005 Ford Championship.

Joe Durant (67) finished four shots back, alone in third. Taylor (68) and Scott Verplank (69) tied for fourth at 19 under with Sean O'Hair (67) to improve their chances of earning spots on the U.S. Ryder Cup team.

Taylor moved up to seventh and Verplank went from 22nd to 18th. The top 10 players earn automatic berths on the team next month in Ireland.

Vijay Singh had a chance to become the first player to win three straight Buick Opens -- and four overall -- when he started the day three shots back. But Singh closed with a 70 to tie for 11th at 17 under.

"I never got any momentum going," he said. "I drove the ball beautifully but couldn't make anything."

August 8, 2006



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