Woody Austin, Ernie Els and steamy Tulsa made Tiger Woods sweat a little, but another PGA Championship was never in doubt.
Heat, thy name is Tulsa. but, perfection? Thy name is still Woods, even if perfect doesn't mean flawless.
Savaged by swing changes, gutted by marriage, paralyzed by the birth of his first child and without a guru in sight, Tiger Woods somehow managed to collect himself when the going got tough on a golf course he supposedly couldn't play to successfully defend his PGA Championship crown for a second time and win his 13th major title by two shots over unlikely Woody Austin at toasty Southern Hills CC.
This time, at least, the lads made him earn it. Dripping sweat from his chin when he leaned over to putt, his trademark red shirt shrink-wrapped to his muscled body by perspiration, his socks so soaked in sweat they retreated into his shoes as if they were ducking into the shade, Woods held off the charges of, first, the easygoing and resurgent Ernie Els and, then, the jittery and game Austin to finish with a winning total of eight-under-par 272.
It's an interesting dynamic, being set decoration in the Tigerama. How do you give the man his due but retain your own dignity? Cross the line and Woods can go downright 9-and-8 or Sabbatini on you, as he once famously did to his Sunday playing partner, Stephen Ames, in the 2006 WGC-Accenture Match Play or to poor Rory just the week before at Firestone CC in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. In Tulsa, however, Woods was confronted by two very different personalities, both acting for all the world as if they really intended to give him a go. And, in a rarity for Woods, he gave them reason to keep the faith.
Ames earned his spot in the final twosome with a birdie on the 18th Saturday but shriveled quickly in the Sunday heat. He was replaced by Els who came out fast, as the three-time major champion knew he must. With Woods at even par through six, seven under for the championship, Els birdied the eighth to reach three under par on his round and join Austin at four under. Woods had looked shaky at the start but, at that point, there was little doubt he was back in control.
Els missed a chance to pick up another shot when his six-footer at the ninth missed. Austin bogeyed the seventh when he drove it in the rough. Then Woods birdied the seventh after hitting his 8-iron to eight feet and the eighth when his 2-iron stayed on the fringe and he made the twisting, fist-pumping 25-footer to get to nine under. With Els still at four under and Austin at three this had all the earmarks of a routine Woodsian rout.
But hold on, America. Here's something we haven't seen much in the pursuit of the great one -- resilience. Els hit driver off the tee on the 366-yard 10th and got up and down from short left of the green for birdie. On the ninth Woods drove it in the left rough, couldn't reach the green and failed to get up and down. The dropped shot was like air conditioning for Austin and Els. Woody set his hair on fire when he saved par at the 10th from just off the green, then went birdie-birdie-birdie, including a huge putt on the 12th after missing the green with a horrendous gap wedge. Els missed another short putt on Southern Hills' bumpy greens and bogeyed the 12th but then barely missed his eagle at the par-5 13th and birdied the 14th after staking his 5-iron three feet from the hole.
Woods' next miscue was managing a mere par at the reachable 13th -- and he had to get up and down from the back bunker for that. His third strike very nearly came at the 14th when he three-putted. Suddenly, Austin was standing on the 15th green with a 10-foot putt to tie. Els was only a shot back, too, but had put himself in trouble in the trees left off the 16th tee, from where he ultimately made bogey to ruin his chances.