Buick Invitational
Buick Invitational
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Woods eagles 18 to win by 2 over Brown

LA JOLLA, Calif. Tiger Woods's nine-month victory drought ended, fittingly, back home in sunny Southern California.

Woods won the Buick Invitational by two shots today when he sank a 15-foot eagle putt on the 18th hole at Torrey Pines South Course, finally putting away pesky Billy Ray Brown after the two punched and counter-punched much of the round.

Woods thrust both arms in the air after finishing at 22-under-par 266, tying George Burns's 1987 tournament record for Torrey Pines. Woods shot 65 today, while Brown shot 66 to finish at 268.

Woods simply needed to play well here to assure that he'll keep his No. 1 spot on the Official World Golf Ranking, which will determine the 64-man field for the $5 million Andersen Consulting Match Play Championship at La Costa Feb. 24-28.

That wasn't foremost on Woods's mind.

"I haven't won on the PGA Tour since May of last year,'' Woods said. "But to finally win again, that feels a lot better than any world ranking.''

Woods had gone winless in 14 tournaments (11 in 1998 and three this year) since his last victory, at the BellSouth Classic on Mother's Day.

Woods, who grew up in Orange County, said winning the Buick was special not only because he was 17-under for the weekend, but that it came in front of family and friends.

"It means a lot to me to do this in front of, in a sense, a hometown crowd,'' he said after his round, which came in perfect weather on the heels of his course-record 62 on Saturday, which also happened to be his best round as a pro.

"You can't really say enough how much that really affects you, to see people that you do know, and are out there supporting you,'' Woods said. "You don't get to see it every week as you travel all over the world. Most of the time you're alone, you and your caddie.''

Woods will have plenty of support the next two weeks, when he plays in the Nissan Open at Riviera in Los Angeles, then at La Costa, which is just north of Torrey Pines.

Brown, whose only top-10 finish in the last six years was a win at the Deposit Guaranty Golf Classic in 1997, finished two strokes ahead of Bill Glasson, who was alone at third at 270. Chris Perry, Omar Uresti and Kevin Sutherland tied for fourth at 273.

Brown said he had a fun round until a bad second shot on 18.

"It was Tiger's tournament to lose,'' Brown said. "All I could do was go free-wheel and he's the guy who had pressure on him. And you see how he responded to the pressure. An eagle on the last hole is just indicative of the kind of player he is.''

Woods came into the final round one stroke ahead of Brown, and quickly took a four-stroke lead after birdies on three of the first four holes at the 7,055-yard South Course.

But he also found himself in a dogfight. After a three-putt bogey on the par-4 No. 5 and a 35-foot eagle chip-in on No. 9, he was two strokes up on Brown, who birdied Nos. 8 and 9.

Woods said he felt he and Brown were basically in a match-play situation after Glasson, playing in the group ahead, didn't birdie No. 13. Woods and Brown both birdied 13, putting Woods at 20-under and Brown one behind him.

Woods and Brown both had scrambling pars on No. 15 after errant drives, and Woods was visibly upset after a fan took a picture on his downswing. He drove deep into the trees on the left, but had an opening and recovered nicely with a low, cut 5-iron shot.

Brown tied Woods at 20-under with a 6-foot birdie putt on the par-3 16th, where Woods's 15-footer lipped-out.

After both again saved par with great up-and-downs on 17, they went into No. 18 tied. Woods mastered the par-5s all weekend. His drive landed on the first cut of the rough just off the left side of the fairway, which he followed with "a perfect 7-iron'' onto the green.

Brown, meanwhile, was indecisive with his 3-iron second shot, hitting it fat but nonetheless lucking out when it landed just to the right of the big pond that fronts the green. His approach shot landed outside of Woods's ball, leaving him a two-putt for par. All Woods had to do was two-putt for birdie to win, but he sank the putt for his second eagle of the round and third of the weekend.

Woods has said his game hasn't been that far away, and outside of a three-putt on the par-3 11th, "I hit a lot of great putts today. Basically, that's the story of the entire week.''

DIVOTS: The victory was Woods's eighth on the PGA Tour in his 53nd start as a professional. He won $486,000 to push his 1999 earnings to $791,120, moving him to second on the money list behind David Duval ($1,091,900), who took this week off to go skiing in Idaho. ... Woods has won five of six times when he has led through 54 holes. ... Defending champion Scott Simpson finished in a four-way tie for 7th at 13-under 275. ... Brown also had trouble with a fan with a camera just before his third shot, a short pitch, on 17, and twice asked the gallery not to take photos. He then almost holed out for birdie, as the ball struck the flagstick and stopped inches from the hole. Woods said he had to back off shots six or seven times because of fans taking pictures, which they're not supposed to do. ... Besides his two eagles, Woods's round today also included five birdies and two bogeys.