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Woods' 66 nabs 3rd straight Buick title

The Baltimore Sun

SAN DIEGO -- Is there anything out there that can trip up Tiger Woods?

Nothing in the past six months anyway, at least on the PGA Tour, once again zoned as Woods' personal playground, just as it has been since last July when he started a winning streak at the British Open that reached seven straight yesterday with his fifth victory overall, and third straight, at the Buick Invitational.

Woods took the lead with six holes to go at Torrey Pines, wound up with a 6-under-par 66, nudged Charles Howell III by two shots, finished with a 15-under score of 273 and, as is his habit, dug deeper into the history books.

Woods' seven-tournament PGA Tour winning streak is the longest in 62 years, since Byron Nelson won 11 straight in 1945.

Woods had won six straight before, spanning 1999 and 2000, and Ben Hogan won six straight in 1948.

Howell said seven was obviously a lucky number, just not for him, only Woods.

"To win seven in a row ... I'd cut my arm off to win another one."

In addition to the subject of winning, Woods also is an expert in golf history, and he said that rolling a seven is something to remember.

"There's only one person that's ahead of you. You know, he's one of the greatest legends in the history of the game. To be in company like that, with Mr. Nelson, and Mr. Hogan up there as well, it's pretty special."

Starting the day two shots off the lead, Woods was still two shots behind Andrew Buckle until Buckle missed the green at the 12th, then missed a five-footer for bogey and wound up with a double bogey. Woods countered with a tap-in birdie at the 13th, took the lead by one shot and never looked back.

Soon, they may rename this place Tiger Pines. Woods has won here four times in the past five years, and yesterday's triumph was his 55th PGA Tour victory, with Arnold Palmer's total of 62 next on the list to pass.

Next for Woods is a European Tour event in Dubai, a mere 18 hours away in actual flight time. And after that, well, Woods wasn't saying. The Nissan Open at Riviera is usually on his PGA Tour list, but Woods seemed to hint that he's not going to be there.

"As far as when I'm going to play again, I don't know. Going to go to Dubai, play over there, come back and see how I feel."

Howell shot a 33 on the back nine and had a chance to catch Woods at the 18th when he stood over an eagle putt from 52 feet, but it stopped five feet from the hole. Woods, who drove into the same fairway bunker at the 18th for the third day in a row, had laid up and hit a wedge with his third shot, but the wind had shifted and the ball spun back into the second cut of the fringe in front of the green and rolled into a small hole.

It could have been trouble for anyone, but not this time. Woods hit a sand wedge to within three feet, made his par and closed out another victory.

It was almost routine, even if it didn't appear to be headed in that direction. Buckle, the third-round co-leader with fellow rookie Brandt Snedeker, reached 15-under par when he birdied the 10th hole, two shots better than Woods and Jeff Quinney and five shots ahead of Howell.

When Buckle made his double bogey at the 12th, Quinney made a similar miscue when he double-bogeyed the 14th, and both of them faded. Snedeker birdied the last hole for a 71 and finished third at 12-under 276.

Woods was steadfast on the most timely occasions. He announced his entry into the race when he made an eagle at the 609-yard, par-5, where he blasted a 3-wood from 283 yards and reached the green. From 26 feet away, Woods rolled in the putt, punctuated the event with a ritualistic fist pump, and caught Quinney at 13-under.

Howell, playing alongside Woods, finished second for the second time this year. He could only shake his head.

"Well, it ain't easy beating that guy."

It's the fifth time in his 11 full years on the PGA Tour that Woods has started the year with a victory. And his closing 66 was the low round of the week on the punishing, 7,469-yard South Course. He had one bogey the last 36 holes.

"It's like what Jack [Nicklaus] had always said," Woods said. "Winning breeds winning, and the more you win, the more you understand how to do it, and you do it in different ways.

"I've done it with great ball-striking, I've done it with lousy ball-striking. I've done it with great putting and so-so putting and sometimes I've done it with my short game. It just breeds more and more confidence when you're put in that situation again."

Thomas Bonk writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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