Tiger comes roaring back with barrage of birdies

By Martyn Herman

NEWPORT, Wales (Reuters) - Just as the sun finally came through at Celtic Manor on Monday, the world's greatest golfer also emerged from months of gloom with a scintillating reminder his golden days might not all be behind him.

The American, hidden down at number eight in captain Corey Pavin's order for the memorably tense series of Ryder Cup singles matches, burst into life with golf that defied superlatives and has been missing since his personal life imploded last year.

With a seven-hole explosion of brilliance from the ninth on the Twenty Ten course, Woods roared past unfortunate Italian rookie Francesco Molinari who until the halfway mark had played beautifully himself to keep the prowling 14-times major winner at bay.

Solid and reliable and superb with a short-iron in his hands, Molinari, whose brother Edoardo was playing in the match behind, went two up after two holes but Woods simply fixed his stare and began moving through the gears.

"How many birdies will you get today?" a cheeky fan shot at Woods as he blanked the chanting crowds on a first tee where each American before him had joined in the last-day fun and games.

The answer was emphatic.

Seven in all and one outrageous eagle in the 15 holes he required to beat Molinari 4&3 -- a victory that provided a lift for his team mates who came agonizingly close to a remarkable singles turnaround.

Woods's only previous defeat in Ryder Cup singles play was on his debut in 1997 against Italian Costantino Rocca and for a short while on Monday, when Molinari birdied the opening two holes, a repeat looked on the cards.

A 25-foot birdie putt on the fourth earned only polite applause from the large crowds following the match which included one fan dressed in a full-length tiger outfit and several others sporting white, green and red wigs.


His drive went left and the American swore loudly.

"Trust your moves," he scolded.

Molinari went back two up with his third birdie at the fifth but Woods hit back at the next, rolling in a 30-footer.

The American, who won three points out of four for his team in the event, almost leveled the match at the eighth when he shaved the hole with a long putt but Tiger Time was fast approaching.

At the par-five ninth Woods squared the match with a birdie and then hit his tee shot close at the par-three 10th where Molinari, beginning to feel the pressure, conceded after leaving his chip in the rough after an errant tee shot.

Woods nonchalantly putted out anyway.

For the first time he allowed himself a broad smile with Williams and a joke with European vice-captain Jose Maria Olazabal -- the weight temporarily lifted from his shoulders.

At the 13th he played a conservative tee shot to the left of the green but was already raising his putter in celebration well before his 60-foot putt disappeared.

Poor Molinari could only puff out his cheeks in admiration. The Italian birdied the 15th but seconds later was shaking his opponent's hand when, with most of his American team mates watching from the bank above the green, Woods matched him.

On a sunny day in Wales it was smiles all round for Woods and although his singles win may be lost in Europe's ecstatic victory, it could mark the day golf got its Tiger back.

(Editing by Tony Jimenez)