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Woods has win handed to him


LA JOLLA, Calif. -- Say what you will about Tiger Woods, but he knows how to win. The victories just arrive in different ways.

Sometimes, he blows to victory with fury, sometimes he squirms his way to the top and other times victory falls in his lap. Yesterday at the Buick Invitational, Woods' 47th PGA Tour tournament title was gift-wrapped and specially delivered, when Jose Maria Olazabal missed a 4-foot putt for par on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff at Torrey Pines.

Woods removed his cap and shook Olazabal's hand, but he did not smile. As far as celebrations go, this was not exactly the proper setting for one and neither was it the kind that Woods would have chosen, although it's familiar to him.

Only three months ago, Woods won the American Express Championship when John Daly missed a 3-footer on the second extra hole in a playoff with Woods. This was more of the same, and it did amount to another victory.

"I feel bad," he said. "I want to win it with a birdie. You don't ever want to see anyone miss a short one like that. You don't ever take pleasure out of seeing your friends do that."

Olazabal's gritty, 3-under-par 69 that pulled him into the playoff didn't seem to matter as much as the fast-breaking, downhill putt that he just didn't make.

"I didn't hit it hard enough," Olazabal said. "It was a tricky putt."

Olazabal lasted one hole longer in the playoff than Nathan Green, the 30-year-old rookie from Australia who birdied the last hole in regulation, shot 72 and then took himself out of it on the first extra hole.

Green's second shot flew into the grandstand. After being given a free drop, he needed three shots to reach the green, and his day was done. Yet with $448,800 in his pocket, the same as Olazabal, Green chose not to be discouraged.

"There's nothing to be disappointed about," he said. "I've been an overachiever for the week."

Woods, though, is an achiever. Seven weeks after hitting his previous shot in competition, Woods started his new year with a come-from-behind victory and a winner's check of $910,000. His closing round of 72 and 72-hole total of 10-under 278 wasn't particularly overpowering, but it was entirely effective.

Woods three-putted for bogey three times yesterday. He missed the fourth fairway with his drive, which landed on the fifth fairway. He was one shot removed from joining Olazabal and Green in a playoff when he reached the par-5 18th - the 571-yard hole that was shortened to 548 yards to entice the players to try to reach it in two shots.

So that's what Woods did. With his second shot, a 5-wood, he landed the ball about 50 feet from the pin, at the top and the back of the green. From there, he putted the ball 8 feet past the hole and had only one more chance to make it and join the playoff with Olazabal and Green.

"I kept saying, 'At least you have a chance,'" Woods said. "I shouldn't have had the opportunity to get into a playoff. I flipped it into a positive situation, I hit it and it found its way to the bottom of the hole."

It matched the longest putt Woods had made all weekend.

On the second playoff hole, Woods already had two-putted for par from 35 feet when Olazabal missed his putt to end it, thus making a distant memory of the skillfully played bunker shot that Olazabal had stopped just short of the hole.

With five consecutive birdies to end his round of 68, Jonathan Kaye moved from a tie for 17th to a tie for fourth at 9-under 270, just one shot out of the playoff. John Rollins, who had a 69, and Lucas Glover, who birdied the last hole for a 71, also tied for fourth and were joined by Arjun Atwal.

Meanwhile, Woods continued to set himself apart. He left last night for Dubai to play in a European Tour event, so he had plenty of time to consider his accomplishments. His 47th PGA Tour victory puts him only five behind Billy Casper for sixth place.

After taking the longest break of his career, a stretch of 24 days, he's off and running. One tournament and one victory into his 11th professional season, Woods said he knows all about expectations from those who follow golf.

"They're always high," he said. "I mean, they've seen what I can do, and they think I can hit some shots. It's awfully nice that they think I can do that."

Thomas Bonk writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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