In the game of golf, and in the city of Las Vegas, there are supposed to be no sure things, no “can’t miss” propositions. But just as he has throughout his astounding career, Tiger Woods chose the perfect time and place Sunday to lay waste to another bit of conventional wisdom.
He is a sure thing. He is a can’t miss. Charging from four strokes off the lead in the final round of the Las Vegas Invitational, Woods, 20, claimed his first victory as a professional golfer, beating Davis Love 3rd in sudden death with a par on the first extra hole.
In defeating one of the best players on the PGA Tour, prevailing against a field that was one of the strongest this tournament has ever seen, Woods took yet another giant step in a career that already has reached near-mythic proportions.
Just one month and 11 days after winning an unprecedented third straight U.S. Amateur Championship, making just his fifth start as a professional, Woods dispelled any remaining doubts - if there were any - about his abilities. His final-round 64 completed an imposing climb to 27 under par for the 90-hole event, and vaulted him over six players, including Love, who shot 67, and Fred Couples, who shot 70, on the final day.
There will now be no more reservations about whether Woods will make the top 125 on the money list to gain a full exemption for next season. The winner’s check of $297,000 gives him a total of $437,194 in just five events, jumping him from 128th to 40th on the list. Now, there will be hotel reservations for Augusta, Ga., for the Masters next April and for La Costa and the Mercedes Championships in January.
“It’s really hard to describe the feeling,” an elated Woods said after Love’s putt for par on the 18th hole slid past the cup. “It’s been a hard struggle all the way, and then I got lucky and won it in the end.”
There was very little luck in Las Vegas, unless you want to count the bad luck that befell Love - who had birdied the first four holes to take the lead in the tournament - when he made double bogey at the 10th hole with a wedge in his hand. Or the black cat bogey that Kelly Gibson suffered on the par-5 16th hole to take himself out of a tie for the lead, or the putt to tie for Mark Calcavecchia that barely slid past on the 17th.
For his part, Woods made his own luck. Woods deals with a loaded deck, reducing the par-5s to pushovers - he was five under par on the four TPC at Summerlin par-5s Sunday, including a 3-wood and 6-iron into the 563-yard ninth hole - and deftly overcoming missed greens with a short-game sleight of hand that barely seems legal.
All Love could do was shake his head in disbelief and pat the young man on the back when it was done. Love, 32, a 10-time winner on the PGA Tour, was one of the veteran players who was critical of Woods for snubbing the organizers of the Fred Haskins Award dinner by not showing up last week at Callaway Gardens, Ga., where he withdrew from the Buick Challenge. But Sunday, his praise was effusive.
“As disappointed as I am, I’m as happy for him,” Love said. “I know he made a mistake last week, but I understood and I supported him.
“He knows what he is doing, and he’s obviously the next great player. We all knew he was going to win, but I didn’t want it to be today.”
In a town built on fool’s gold, Woods proved himself to be the 24-karat variety. He suffered a pulled groin muscle during Friday’s round, but underwent therapy each day and played through the pain.
He has arrived, full blown, the genuine article come of age in the glittering city of real tinsel and real facade.
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