DUBLIN, Ohio – Tiger Woods thought he hit a perfect shot at 16.
No, not the chip that disappeared into the hole for an unbelievable birdie, but the tee shot at the par 3 that Jack Nicklaus redesigned two years ago to add drama to the tournament.
It was the second of three birdies Woods made in the final four holes at Muirfield Village en route to a closing 5-under 67 to win the Memorial Tournament for a fifth time. Woods finished at 9 under par, two shots ahead of Rory Sabbatini and Andres Romero.
On the tee, Woods looked to the right of a precarious left-side pin with an 8-iron and hit the shot he wanted. It carried too long, setting up a shot that Nicklaus afterward called the best he had ever seen under the circumstances.
"It was nice to see him get a break," caddie Joe LaCava said after the round. "Not that he needed a break, but he played so well all week that it was nice to see that one go in."
"I was jacked. I know people think I don't show it, but I was really excited."
Woods thought he needed one more birdie to avoid a playoff with someone in the final pairing: Sabbatini or the fading Spencer Levin.
He thought he had it at 17, gesturing like he would make a 15-foot birdie putt. But it didn't fall.
With the tournament in his hands, Woods practically replayed his tee shot at 16 with his approach to the last. This time, the result matched how he imagined it.
Leaving 9 feet for birdie and a certain win, Woods was received with resounding applause and cheers from a crowd that, earlier in the day, seemed keen on a second PGA Tour win for his playing partner, Rickie Fowler.
Jack Nicklaus was there to see it all. He stood with the crowd and applauded the man about to join him just behind Sam Snead on the career PGA Tour wins list. A tear was in the Golden Bear's eye.
Of course, the last putt fell. How could it not? Nicklaus watched calmly knowing what would happen, then went to the green for a moment with the champion and now.
LaCava had an inkling it would happen, too.
"I texted a buddy of mine a few weeks back and bet him that Tiger would have three wins through the U.S. Open," he said. "And I told him I thought it would be great if he did it at Jack's place."
After they shared words, including a request from Nicklaus to return twice next year for this event and the Presidents Cup, the host returned to his perch at the last hole. He winked as he sat down, aware the chase toward his major tally will resume with gusto in two weeks at The Olympic Club.
On this day, however, the number to celebrate was 73, not 18.
Someday, Woods may play the role Nicklaus did - hosting the player who passes him on the wins list.
Asked how he might feel that day at the AT&T National sometime in the mid-21st century, Woods said with a smile, "I'm just hoping to be alive then."
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