Welcome Back -- Tiger Wins Debut


Playing in his first competitive event in nine weeks, Tiger Woods entered the final round of the Buick Invitational with a one-stroke lead. Just two back, and in the same ultimate group, was his arguable nemesis, Phil Mickelson.
For further spice, there was the predicate matter of verbal equipment jousting between Americas top-2 players.
Drama, you have life.
Sundays Opening Act: Woods birdies three of his first six holes.
Drama, you are dead.
Woods got out of the gates quickly to extend his overnight lead, and then maintained a steady pace for an impressive 4-under 68 on the difficult 7,607-yard Torrey Pines South Course. He crossed the finish line at 16-under-par 266, tying the 72-hole tournament record.
'I couldn't have asked for a better start,' said Woods, who had knee surgery on Dec. 12.
Sweden's Carl Pettersson, making his second start as a tour member, shot 69 to claim second place at 12-under. Brad Faxon had an even-par 72 to finish alone in third at 11-under.
Mickelson also had a 72 to finish six back with first-round leader Arron Oberholser (71) and Briny Baird (71).
'He showed no signs of any problems with his knee,' Mickelson said of Woods. 'I thought 3- or 4-under would be a really good round, and he ended up shooting 4-under, so it would have been really tough to catch him.'
Woods won his 35th career PGA Tour title -- his second at the Buick Invitational (1999) -- and claimed victory in his first event of the season for the third time. He picked up $810,000 to close within a million dollars of Ernie Els' lead on the money list.
He also upped his PGA Tour record of converting 54-hole leads into victory to a remarkable 27 out of 29.
Mickelson, in the 2000 Tour Championship, was the last player to knock Tiger from his third-round pedestal.
But this Sunday showdown was supremely one-sided, and in favor of the pole-sitter.
The normally explosive Mickelson was subdued, parring his first 10 holes. He scarred his scorecard with bogeys at 11 and 12. The three-time champion never got closer than the two strokes by which he started the final round trailing.
He caused a stir last week when he was quoted as saying Woods was stuck with inferior equipment.
For the record, Woods bettered Mickelson in every statistical category Sunday. He outdrove him on the two official measuring holes (298 yards to 292); hit more fairways (9 to 6); hit more greens in regulation (14 to 12) and had fewer putts (28 to 30).
''He flew it by me a couple of times today, but I hit more fairways,'' Woods said. ''I wasn't trying to pound it out there because I knew the rough was pretty high. I felt like it was more important to get the ball in play.''
Woods won five of the 14 events ' and finished ahead of him 12 times ' in which they competed together in 2002; Mickelson won none.
Woods is again one up in 03.
'I always enjoy competing against him,' Mickelson said of playing alongside Woods. 'My success rate has not been that great, but I still enjoy the challenge.'
Thanks to his quick start, Woods increased his overnight lead of one over the almost forgotten Faxon to three. That advantage stayed intact as the final threesome made the turn; no one would get closer the remainder of the way.
Woods laced a 4-iron from 231 yards to three feet on the par-3 11th to get to 15-under; four clear of anyone else.
He punctuated his victory with an extraordinary birdie at the par-4 15th.
After missing the fairway off the tee, Woods hit a 4-iron approach shot from the thick rough through a pair of trees, under their branches, and then got the ball to rise over the greenside bunker and land gently 20 feet behind the hole -- which was 200 yards away.
He made the putt, pumped his fist and parred his final three holes.
The victory was similar to many of the ones he posted last year on tour. Woods won five times, all while holding at least a share of the 54-hole lead.
Three times he started Sunday leading by one or tied at the top. Each time he shot no better than 69 and still increased his margin of victory.
Related Links
  • Tiger Woods' Winner's Press Conference
  • Full-field scores from the Buick Invitational
  • Full coverage of the Buick Invitational