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PGA Tiger weathers fog to win Buick title



Published: Mon, January 24, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Woods' tournament victory was his first in stroke play since October 2003.

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Eerie fog finally lifted and gave way to a bizarre victory by Tiger Woods.

Ending the longest stroke-play drought of his PGA Tour career, Woods barely made it through a 31-hole Sunday at Torrey Pines by taking advantage of everyone else's mistakes and one bad break for Charles Howell III to win the Buick Invitational.

Ultimately, Woods almost made the biggest blunder of all.

Trying to reach the par-5 18th green in two with a one-shot lead, he hit a 3-iron so badly that it landed on a strip of fairway to the right of the big pond. He finally ended the suspense by making an 18-foot birdie putt to close with a 4-under 68 for a three-shot victory over Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman, Luke Donald and Howell.

Drought over

It was his first stroke-play victory since the American Express Championship in October 2003. Woods only won the Match Play Championship last year.

Lehman went toe-to-toe with Woods during the final six holes and hit better shots on most of them. But he caught a plugged lie in the bunker on No. 17 to make bogey and fall one shot behind. Needing a birdie at the 18th to have any chance, Lehman hit a fat wedge that barely got over the water, and he wound up making bogey.

Woods finished at 16-under 272 and earned $864,000, putting him atop the PGA Tour money list for the first time since Vijay Singh won at Disney in October 2003.

It was his largest final-round comeback -- three shots -- since he rallied from five shots behind at Pebble Beach five years ago. But this time, Woods had to rely on everyone around him.

Donald had gone 37 holes without a bogey and was in control of the tournament until he hit 6-iron over the 14th green and into the hazard for a double bogey. One shot behind, he pulled his tee shot into the hazard on No. 17 and had to scramble for bogey. He shot 73.

Howell's misery

Howell hit a perfect shot and suffered the cruelest fate on the South course at Torrey Pines.

His sand wedge from 95 yards on No. 18 hit the bottom of the pin and part of the cup, then ricocheted back and into the pond.

Howell took off his cap and stared in disbelief.

"I knew I hit the shot perfect," Howell said. "And then to hit the hole and go into the water, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Obviously, it's a crazy game."

He took a penalty drop, spun a wedge off the green and chipped in for bogey to shoot 72. Had the shot gone in, there would have been a playoff.

Lehman was trying win for the first time in five years and become the first active Ryder Cup captain to win on the PGA Tour since Jack Nicklaus at the 1986 Masters.

But he hit his worst shots over the final two holes and had to settle for his fifth straight top-10 finish. Lehman has failed to win his last seven tournaments when he had at least a share of the 54-hole lead.

Woods had to scramble for par on the 14th, 15th and 16th holes just to keep pace with Lehman. Then with a chance to build a two-shot lead on the 17th, he missed a 6-foot birdie putt.

When it was finally over, he had his 41st career victory and ended an 0-for-21 streak in stroke-play events.

Bernhard Langer, the European captain last year at Oakland Hills, closed with a 72 and finished fifth.

Singh completed a 68 in the morning to get within six shots, but then bogeyed three of his first seven holes and never recovered. He closed with a 75 and finished out of the top 10 for the first time since he became No. 1 in September, ending a streak of eight straight top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour.

Phil Mickelson made an inauspicious debut to his 2005 season. He soared to a 78 early Sunday, then closed with a 71 to finish 15 shots behind.




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