Woods PGA finish at Valhalla an Epic Story

Monday, August 21st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Tiger Woods' other four major championships were historic.

This one was epic.

Never mind that the 24-year-old became the only other person besides Ben Hogan to win three professional majors in the same year or that he is the first to win back-to-back PGA Championships since Denny Shute in 1936-37.

Woods had to win at Valhalla Golf Club on Sunday, not by running away from the field but by staving off a heroic journeyman named Bob May in a three-hole playoff. And he did it by showing the mind, skill and nerve of a true champion.

For those waiting for someone to put the heat on Woods in a major, this was that moment, even though May was the unlikely combatant.

"It's got to go down as one of the best duels in the game," said a relieved Woods, who won the U.S. Open by 15 shots and the British Open by eight. "It was one memorable battle and I enjoyed it. We never backed off from one another. ... birdie for birdie, shot for shot. That's as good as it gets."

Woods, who shot a 67, and May (66) each fired a 31 on the back nine yesterday under the most intense conditions. Their four-round totals of 270 (18-under par) also gave them the PGA scoring record so that Woods now owns them in all four majors.

Still, he never had to work as hard as he did for this one.

Woods' birdie on 16, the first hole of the three-hole stroke-play playoff, gave him his first lead since the first hole. Then his adventurous par on 18 (May parred all three playoff holes) earned him his fifth major title.

First, of course, he had to run down May on the back nine. He eventually tied him with one hole left, then matched May's remarkable birdie on the 72nd hole, making clutch putt after clutch putt.

"Nothing he does surprises me," said Woods' swing coach, Butch Harmon, who worked with Woods on the range Saturday until darkness set in. "He always finds a way.''

Harmon also put this one above Woods' record-shattering wins at the U.S. and British Opens.

"What he did at Pebble Beach and St. Andrews was when everything was in sync. What he did this week was when he was a little bit out of sync," he said. "That's when you have to show your heart.''

May also showed plenty of heart, especially on the last hole of regulation when he snaked in a double-breaking 15-footer for birdie, forcing Woods to match him with a five-footer that finished off a great two-putt from down the ridge. But Woods just wasn't to be denied, and that was apparent from the 15th hole on.

It was the turning point in what turned out to be a match-play final.

May, who was short of the green in the rough in two, pulled off an incredible pitch shot, drawing the ball back over eight yards of water to within 10 feet behind the cup. Woods had hit 2-iron into the right rough off the tee and a hot 8-iron that kicked into the swale behind the green. He misread the putt from there, leaving himself 15 feet out.

If Woods had missed that putt and May made his, it would have been a two-shot swing. May would have led by three with three to play.

But Woods simply hit the putt that all great champions need to make. May pulled his birdie attempt.

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

cw 1 26.7033m;cw 2 14.0544m;cw 3 31.9737m;cw 4 14.0544m;hr 0;fr 0;fc 0;lc 0;MAJORS LEADERSTiger Woods joined 17 other players who have won at least five major titles. The rundown:PlayerNo.PlayerNo.Jack Nicklaus18Lee Trevino7Walter Hagen11Harry Vardon7Ben Hogan9Nick Faldo6Gary Player9Tiger Woods5Tom Watson8Seve Ballesteros5Bobby Jones7James Braid5Arnold Palmer7Byron Nelson5Gene Sarazen7J.H. Taylor5Sam Snead7Peter Thomson5