Tiger Woods wins three way playoff
For the longest time, Tiger Woods was simply part of the crowd.
Little did he know when he knocked in an 8-foot putt for the only birdie on the 12th hole at Torrey Pines that he was part of an eight-way tie for the lead with time running out at the Buick Invitational.
Of the 12 players who had a share of the lead at some point Sunday, all could have won.
Every shot mattered.
And when a Sunday filled with sunshine and surprises finally ended, the only thing that remotely resembled normalcy were some familiar images of Woods -- fist pounding one minute when his birdie putt dropped to force a playoff, head bowed the next minute when Jose Maria Olazabal missed a short putt to hand him the trophy.
"For me to even have a chance to be in the playoff, to win the title ... very lucky," Woods said.
His first victory in his 30s was a lot like his last victory in his 20s.
Four months ago, Woods was in a playoff with John Daly in the American Express Championship at Harding Park, the public course in San Francisco, where Daly missed a 3-foot par putt on the second playoff hole.
On a public course Woods has played since he was 12, he was going through a mental rehearsal of how to hit his tee shot on the 17th at Torrey Pines when Olazabal's 4-foot par putt dipped below the cup and ran over the lip.
Just as he did four months ago, Woods closed his eyes and bowed his head.
"You don't ever take pleasure out seeing your friends do that," Woods said. "I would have felt fired up if I made the putt in the playoff for birdie on 18 and ended it right there, but not when a friend of mine misses a short one."
That Olazabal would miss the short putt after a splendid bunker shot was only part of a bizarre day.
Jonathan Kaye birdied his last five holes and posted his score at 9 under, which left him atop the leaderboard until Olazabal hammered a 3-wood over the water on the par-5 18th and two-putted for birdie and a 3-under 69, giving him the lead at 10-under 278.
John Rollins had good fortune on his side, holing out a wedge from 117 yards for eagle at No. 10 and making a 60-foot birdie putt across the green on the 14th. Lucas Glover had a 60-foot eagle putt to tie Olazabal that stopped inches short of the cup, and Arjun Atwal's 5-foot birdie putt to get into the playoff caught the right lip.
And then there was Nathan Green.
The 30-year-old rookie from Australia, who once worked in his parents' crematorium, sank a sand wedge from 77 yards away in the fairway on the 13th to grab a brief two-shot lead, missed two par putts, then made a 7-foot birdie on the 18th hole for a 72 to join Olazabal.
Through it all, there was Woods.
Three times he three-putted for bogey, fooled by greens he knows better than most. And when he ran a 75-foot eagle putt some 8 feet past the cup on the 18th hole, Woods faced a situation he knows all too well.
Make the putt for a 72 and play extra holes.
Miss the putt and leave.
"It's fun," Woods said. "You either win or lose right here and now," he said. "You can't make up any ground. Either you get it done or you don't. Over my career, I've done a pretty good job of it."
He sized up the putt, remembered that it didn't break as much as it looks, and poured it into the middle of the cup.
Green was the first to leave the playoff, another surprise considering his position.
He was the only player to find the fairway on the par-5 18th, but hit his 3-wood into the grandstand and took a free drop. Seeing that Woods had laid up and hit a wedge into 8 feet, Green figured he better get it close.
He did, eventually.
The first chip barely cleared the bunker, settling into sticky rough. His birdie chip moved only a few inches and didn't reach the green, and he made bogey.
"There's nothing to be disappointed about," Green said. "I've been an overachiever for the week."
Woods missed his putt -- a rarity -- and momentum swung to Olazabal's favor until he hit his tee shot on the par-3 16th into a bunker. But the Spaniard hit a remarkable shot to 4 feet, and Woods was preparing to go to the next hole when Olazabal missed.
"It was a very tricky putt down the hill, very fast, and right-to-left break," Olazabal said. "I had to make it, so I decided that I was going to put less break on it and just hit it a little firmer, but I didn't hit it firm enough."
That left Woods a winner for the 47th time in his PGA Tour career, and made him the first four-time winner of the Buick Invitational. Torrey Pines became the fourth golf course where he has won four times, joining Augusta National, Bay Hill and Firestone.
"I feel comfortable here," Woods said.
He remains equally at ease winning tournaments, no matter how long he has been gone. Woods was coming off the longest self-imposed break of his career -- six weeks, including 24 days without touching a club.
He had said it took him six holes in the first round to find his competitive flow, and the rest came back to him. Stay in contention, made the crucial putts, wait for others to self-destruct.
It worked his first 10 years on the PGA Tour, and in winning his season-opener for the fourth time in 10 years, he showed his 30s might not be much different.