SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods was so good for so long at Torrey Pines that it didn’t matter how bad it looked at the end.
In a finish that was fitting for such a long and exasperating week, Woods built an eight-shot lead with five holes to play Monday until he lost patience with the slow play and started losing shots that only determined the margin of victory.
Despite two bogeys and a double bogey in the final hour, he closed with an even-par 72 for a four-shot victory in the Farmers Insurance Open.
“I’m excited the way I played all week,” Woods said. “I hit the ball well – pretty much did everything well and built myself a nice little cushion. I had some mistakes at the end, but all my good play before that allowed me to afford those mistakes.”
He won for the 75th time in his PGA Tour career, seven behind the record held by Sam Snead.
Woods won this tournament for the seventh time, and he set a PGA Tour record by winning at Torrey Pines for the eighth time, including his 2008 U.S. Open. Woods also has won seven times at Bay Hill and at Firestone.
Torrey Pines is a public course that he has turned into his private domain.
“I don’t know if anybody would have beaten him this week,” said Nick Watney, who got within five shots of Woods when the tournament was still undecided until making three bogeys on his next five holes. “He’s definitely on his game.”
It was the 23rd time Woods has won by at least four shots on the PGA Tour. Defending champion Brandt Snedeker (69) and Josh Teater (69) tied for the second. Watney had a 71 and tied for fourth with Jimmy Walker.
It was a strong statement for Woods, who was coming off a missed cut last week in Abu Dhabi. This was the second time in his career that Woods won in his next tournament after missing the cut, but this was the first time it happened the following week.
Abu Dhabi is now a distant memory. The question how is what kind of season is shaping up for Woods.
“I think he wanted to send a message,” said Hunter Mahan, who shares a swing coach with Woods. “I think deep down he did. You play some games to try to motivate yourself. There’s been so much talk about Rory (McIlroy). Rory is now with Nike. That would be my guess.”
The last time Woods won at Torrey Pines also was on a Monday, when he beat Rocco Mediate in a playoff to capture the U.S. Open for his 14th major.
Of all his wins on this course along the Pacific, this might have been the most peculiar.
Thick fog cost the tournament an entire day of golf on Saturday, forcing the first Monday finish in tournament history. Woods effectively won the tournament during his 25 holes on Sunday, when he turned a two-shot lead into a six-shot margin with only 11 holes to play. CBS Sports wanted to televise the final day in late afternoon on the East Coast, but it still went long because of the pace of play.
It took Woods about 3 hours, 45 minutes to finish his 11 holes on Monday. His 19-hole win over Mediate lasted 4½ hours.
As much as Woods got off to a good start, equal attention was given to slow play, an increasing problem on the PGA Tour.
“It got a little ugly toward the end,” Woods said. “I started losing patience a little bit with the slow play. I lost my concentration a little bit.”
He made bogey from the bunker on No. 14. He hooked a tee shot off the eucalyptus trees and into a patch of ice plant on the 15th, leading to double bogey. After another long wait on the 17th tee, he popped up his tee shot and made another bogey. With a four-shot lead on the 18th – Kyle Stanley blew a three-shot lead a year ago – he hit wedge safely behind the hole for a two-putt par.
Woods finished on 14-under 274 for his 14th win in California, and 11th in San Diego County.
“I think a win always makes it special, especially the way I played,” Woods said. “To have not won would have been something else because I really played well. Playing the way I did for most of this tournament, until the very end, the last five holes, I felt like I should have won this tournament. I put myself in a position where I had a big enough lead, and that’s basically how I felt like I played this week.
“I know I can do that, and it was nice to be able to do it.”
Like so many of his big wins, the only drama was for second place.
Brad Fritsch, the rookie from Canada, birdied his last two holes for a 75. That put him into a tie for ninth, however, making him eligible for the Phoenix Open next week. Fritsch had been entered in the Monday qualifier that he had to abandon when the Farmers Insurance Open lost Saturday to a fog delay.
Woods was so far ahead that he would have had to collapse for anyone to have a chance, and that never looked possible.
Even so, the red shirt seemed to put him on edge. It didn’t help that as he settled over his tee shot on the par-5 ninth, he backed off when he heard a man behind the ropes take his picture.
Woods rarely hits the fairway after an encounter with a camera shutter, and this was no different – it went so far right that it landed on the other side of a fence enclosing a corporate hospitality area.
Woods took his free drop, punched out below the trees into the fairway and then showed more irritation when his wedge nicked the flag after one hop and spun down the slope 30 feet away instead of stopping next to the hole.
He didn’t show much reaction on perhaps his most memorable shot of the day — with his legs near the edge of a bunker some 75 feet to the left of the 11th green, he blasted out to the top shelf and watched the ball take dead aim until it stopped a foot short. A two-putt birdie on the 13th gave him an eight-shot lead, and then it was only a matter of time — a lot of time — until the trophy presentation.
Before anyone projects a monster year for Woods based on one week, especially when that week is at Torrey Pines, remember that no one else in golf — not even McIlroy — is the subject of more snap judgments.
Woods, however, likes the direction he is headed, especially with his short game.
“I’m excited about this year. I’m excited about what I’m doing with Sean (Foley) and some of the things that I’ve built,” he said. “This is a nice way to start the year.”
Woods is not likely to return to golf until the Match Play Championship next month.