AKRON, Ohioâ€” Firestone always seems the perfect place for Tiger Woods to show his best stuff.
This year, the timing could not have been much better.
In the final event before the final major of the year, Woods buried Rory Sabbatini and the rest of the field Sunday at the Bridgestone Invitational for an eight-shot victory, sending his confidence soaring as he left for Southern Hills and the PGA Championship.
“This might just give me a little more confidence,” Woods said.
It was a command performance on a challenging course, reminiscent of some of his major victories.
He was determined to play the final round without a bogey, just like the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, and Woods showed more emotion over saving par with a 12-foot putt on the final hole than any of his birdies in his 5-under 65. He finished at 8-under 272.
He was the only player to finish under par at Firestone; the only other times he had done that were his two U.S. Open victories. And after turning a one-shot deficit into a six-shot lead on the front nine, Woods left everyone else playing for second.
“The whole idea was to win this event, but be playing well going into next week,” Woods said. “I feel I made some nice strides this week, and I feel very good going into next week. … I feel like I’m in better shape heading into this one than I do going into the last major.”
Sabbatini took another step backward. The fiery South African lost a one-shot lead to Woods in the Wachovia Championship this year, then said Woods looked “beatable as ever.”
Not on this course.
It was the second time Woods has strung together three straight victories at this World Golf Championship, and he tied a PGA Tour record by winning for the sixth time on the same course. Jack Nicklaus won six Masters at Augusta National, and Alex Ross won six times at the North & South Open at Pinehurst No. 2 at the turn of the 20th century. He also won for the 14th time in 25 tries at the World Golf Championships.
“This one felt good,” Woods said.
Sabbatini closed with a 74, just as he did in the final group with Woods at Wachovia. Justin Rose saved par on the final hole for a 68 that left him tied for second. He thought he had a chance with four birdies through eight holes until he saw a leaderboard with Woods in firm control.
“I thought, â€˜Oh, well, we’re playing for second,'” Rose said. “And obviously, that’s what it turned out to be. Rory and I were in different situations today. For me, vying for second place was an exciting prospect. With Rory, maybe it’s a slight letdown.”
Woods started the final round one shot behind Sabbatini. When they made the turn as the rain began, white flags would have more appropriate than umbrellas. Sabbatini was shaken to the point that he ordered a spectator removed.
Woods essentially won by picking up five shots during a five-hole stretch on the front nine, but the ninth hole was absurd. Everyone in the final group was all over the map and headed for big numbers, with Woods the wildest.
He hooked his tee shot so far to the left the ball found the rough on the 10th fairway. Then he tried to slice his approach around the trees, only to drop from a branch and hit a 58-year-old woman in the arm, coming to rest in the crook of her arm. After taking a drop, Woods pitched over the green, then chipped in for par.
Sabbatini took five to reach the green and made double bogey, and as he walked toward the 10th tee, a spectator said: “Hey, Rory, still think Tiger is beatable?”
Sabbatini turned and glared. He barked at a police officer and demanded, with an obscenity thrown in, that the fan be taken “out of here.”
Soothing the sting was seeing his children standing by the 10th tee, and Sabbatini stooped and hugged them. Then he pulled his next tee shot into the rough and made another bogey, as Woods poured it on. Even with everything falling his way, Woods kept a straight face when he holed a chip from the front of the 12th green for his fifth birdie.
Still, this was over much sooner.
Woods earned $1.35 million for his 58th career victory. Since the start of the 2005 season, Woods has not gone more than five starts on the PGA Tour without winning.