IRVING, Texas -- He didn't lap the field as happened last month at the Masters. He didn't knock down any of society's barriers or set any records.
Tiger Woods just won.
Strictly in terms of golf, what Woods did yesterday in the final round of the Byron Nelson Classic at the TPC at Las Colinas was as impressive as what he did at Augusta National. Maybe even more so.
After coming into the day with a two-shot lead and a faulty swing, Woods overcame a sloppy start and a subsequent two-shot deficit to beat journeyman Lee Rinker.
A 2-under-par 68 gave Woods a four-round total of 17-under 263, two shots ahead of Rinker, and a share of the tournament record set two years ago by Ernie Els.
The victory, worth $324,000, was the third for Woods this year and his fifth in 16 events since turning pro last summer. It pushed him to the top of this year's PGA Tour money list at $1,290,350.
Even Woods seemed impressed by how he won his first event since his 12-shot victory at the Masters.
"Winning like this means a lot to you," said Woods, 21, who became the second youngest player ever to win five tournaments and reached $2 million in career earnings faster than any other player. "It goes to show you that if you think well and you've got a good short game, you can win a lot out here or can do very well."
Still struggling with his swing despite what he called a "quick fix" HTC lesson from his coach, Butch Harmon, who took a flight from Houston before the round, Woods lost the lead shortly after he sliced a 3-wood into the water on the par-4 third hole and took bogey.
Down by two shots after Rinker played the first six holes in 3-under, Woods pulled to within one with a birdie on the par-5 seventh and drew even with a birdie on the par-4 12th. Woods took the lead when Rinker bogeyed the par-4 15th.
Asked when he felt comfortable with his swing, "completely comfortable -- probably not until about 15 or 16 where I felt that I was in position where I knew I could really trust my golf swing. From the 15th fairway on, I hit some pretty good shots."
With his ball sitting on a patch of rough precariously close to a sewage drain right of the 15th fairway, Woods punched a 6-iron into the 15-mph headwind. The ball stopped 8 feet past the cup and Woods narrowly missed the putt for birdie.
It continued with Woods birdieing the par-5 16th. After crushing a 310-yard drive, Woods used his driver from the fairway and put his second shot to the left of the green. From about 40 feet away, Woods nearly chipped in. He made a 3-footer for birdie to go up by two. He played safe and parred in.
"He just played the shots he had to play and he didn't take a lot of chances," said Harmon, who tried to get Woods to stand more upright in his setup. "That's what Nicklaus used to do. Right now he's the best player in the world. I don't care what the rankings say."
Woods is not only the best player in the world; he is likely the most beloved. An ethnically diverse crowd of around 80,000 cheered every move he made, from taking the Tiger headcover off his driver as he tried to drive the green on the 385-yard, par-4 first hole to hugging his mother Kultida after sinking his final putt.
"I've never had that happen in all my years of playing," Woods said of the adulation and then laughing at himself for the last part of that statement.
The drive on the first hole, which wound up hitting a spectator, was the first of many errant shots Woods hit. But his short game, which helped him to a pair of 64s to start the week after a month's layoff, kept him in the hunt.
After he put his drive on the par-4 10th hole in a fairway bunker, and his approach behind the green into a bunker, Woods made a delicate downhill chip to 5 feet and made the putt to save par. He later called it the most crucial hole of the day.
"At the time I was one shot behind and if I don't get up-and-down [for par], I'm two shots down," said Woods, who pointed at the ball as it dropped in the hole and pumped his fists as he walked away from the green. "If he birdies 16, I'm three down and I have to make a lot of birdies coming in."
Instead, Rinker's day of miracle shots ended when he missed his 5-foot putt for par at 15 and failed to birdie 16. It was still the best finish of Rinker's career, his second-place check of $194,000 more than four times what he had made this year.
"There's a ton of positives," said Rinker, 36. "I've secured my [Tour] card. I'm in the Memorial. I knew it was coming around. It's a big positive to have a good tournament."
It was just another coronation for Woods. Fittingly, perhaps, one of those in his entourage waiting at the 18th green with his mother and friends was Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York. Also offering his congratulations was the legendary Nelson.
"You've made double today what I made my whole career," said Nelson during the post-tournament ceremony. Woods is expected to add to his wealth today. Before heading to this week's tour stop in nearby Fort Worth for the Colonial tournament, Woods will go to New York today where it is expected he will sign a reported $60 million deal with MasterCard, pushing his endorsement total to around $120 million.
But that won't change his plans for the Colonial.
Asked what he expected to happen there, Woods stared blankly.
"To win," he said.
His five victories in his first 16 pro tournaments is unmatched.
Only Horton Smith, who played in the 1920s, had more wins (seven) at age 21.
He reached $2 million in earnings in 16 tournaments, 34 quicker than the previous record-holder Ernie Els.
He became the first player since Bernhard Langer in 1985 to win his first tourney after the Masters.
Pub Date: 5/19/97