Garcia Beats Tiger at Bighorn

Tuesday, August 29th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PALM DESERT, Ca. (AP) — Perhaps the PGA Tour should switch to night golf. For one night, at least, Tiger Woods seemed almost vulnerable under the lights.

Sergio Garcia put on a Tiger-like finish Monday night to do what no one seems able to do in regular day events — beat Woods down the stretch.

Garcia's four birdies in the last five holes was too much for an ailing Woods to overcome — though he nearly did by almost holing a pitch shot under the bright lights lining the 18th hole.

And Woods didn't exactly play poorly, making five birdies against no bogeys. Garcia just played a little better at the end, when Woods usually shines, to beat him 1-up.

``It was different, playing under the lights like other athletes do,'' Woods said. ``Overall, it was very exciting. It was a wonderful match.''

The made-for-television ``Battle at Bighorn'' paid $1.1 million to Garcia and $400,000 to Woods, who battled the flu and a brutal schedule that saw him win the NEC Invitational a night earlier and do a clinic in Akron, Ohio, on Monday morning before flying to the desert.

``I've had better days, and I've had shorter days,'' Woods said. ``It was a long day and I enjoyed it. I just wish I could have felt a bit better.''

Garcia was feeling fine, after sinking a 35-footer on the 16th hole, then a 10-footer for birdie on 18 to clinch the match as golf returned to prime time on ABC.

``He's by far the best golfer in the world,'' Garcia said. ``I just made some putts when I had to.''

Woods, coming off wins in the PGA Championship a week earlier and the NEC Invitational on Sunday night, fought the flu as well as fatigue but still lost by only a hole.

``I'm so cold. I'm freezing,'' Woods said to caddie Steve Williams as he waited to putt on the 17th hole on a warm night in the desert.

Darkness descended on the desert course by the 14th hole, with players and fans straining to see the shots. But floodlights perched atop cranes lit the last four holes, and that was where Garcia shone.

``Over those last holes, I just felt so good with the putter,'' Garcia said.

Woods still had a chance on the 18th, nearly holing a pitch over a greenside bunker to within 3 feet of the hole. But Garcia, who had pitched to 10 feet, made his putt and the match was over.

``At least I gave Sergio a run for his money,'' Woods said. ``He had to make some putts to earn it.''

For Woods, it was the end to a stretch of golf that saw him win in a thrilling finish at the PGA and in a runaway at the NEC.

``I've had three pretty good weeks,'' Woods said. ``The last few months have been good to me. But it builds up. My body just broke down a couple days short.''

Woods finished off the field in near darkness Sunday to win the NEC in Akron, Ohio, then flew across the country Monday, and he and Garcia needed lights to finish the final holes.

The darker it got, the better Garcia played.

Garcia made eight birdies, five on the back nine, against a pair of bogeys for what would have been a 66 in medal play. Woods didn't make a bogey, but managed only five birdies, including the conceded putt on the final hole, for a medal 67.

``I was a little nervous on the first hole,'' Garcia said. ``After that, I started calming down a little bit.''

Woods was clearly the attraction for an estimated 6-7,000 fans, who shouted at him and ran from hole to hole to get prime viewing spots.

The players were driven in golf carts between many of the holes, and on several occasions Woods looked a bit nervous as his cart was forced to thread between throngs of fans to get to the next tee.

As Garcia stood over a putt on the fourth hole, a cell phone rang. Both he and Woods also backed off shots after beginning their backswings when cameras went off next to the tee.

Unlike last year's inaugural event, which saw Woods beat No. 2 David Duval 2 and 1, Garcia was picked for the match despite not winning all year and holding the No. 15 ranking in the world.

Garcia got the nod because of the animated way he often plays, such as in the 1999 PGA Championship when he ran across the fairway and leaped into the air as he chased a shot on the final day.

A day earlier, Woods hit an 8-iron to 2 feet in near darkness on the final hole to win the NEC by 11 shots. It was his eighth win in 16 PGA Tour events this year, five of them coming by at least four strokes.