Published January 13, 2015
Sunday brought yet another grand crossing over the Swilcan Bridge: the defiant return of Tiger Woods (search). Two days after Jack Nicklaus bade an emotional farewell to the majors, Woods took another step toward the Golden Bear's record with another ruthless performance at St. Andrews, closing with a 2-under 70 to win the British Open for his 10th career major.
He won by five shots, the largest margin in any major since Woods won by eight at St. Andrews (search) five years ago. This one also had a sense of inevitability, with Woods taking the lead on the ninth hole of the first round. No one caught him over the final 63.
He joined Nicklaus as the only players to win the career Grand Slam twice, and Woods completed his own version of the slam that shows how their careers are so indelibly linked — he now has won all four majors that Nicklaus played for the last time.
It was Woods' second major in four months, restoring a dominance that had been missing the last few years. Even after he won the Masters (search) in a playoff, there were questions about whether he could blow away the competition the way he did when he captured seven out of 11 majors.
But that's exactly what happened on the Old Course.
Woods was challenged briefly by Colin Montgomerie and his flag-waving gallery of Scots, but pulled away on the back nine without ever coming close to trouble until his lead was up to six. He finished at 14-under 274.
Montgomerie shot 72 to finish second at 279, his best finish at a major since he was runner-up at the 1997 U.S Open at Congressional. Jose Maria Olazabal lost his way in gorse and pot bunkers and shot 74, making birdie on the last hole that gave him a tie for third at 280 with Fred Couples (68).
Woods didn't stop and pose atop the Swilcan Bridge as Nicklaus did Friday when he played in his 164th and final major. Instead, he strode swiftly over the stone arch, removed his cap as he walked up the 18th fairway and sent a powerful message to the world of golf: He's back.
Maybe those swing changes weren't such a bad idea.
"This is one of the reasons I made the changes," Woods said, "so I could be back here again and be at this level."
He held the silver claret jug aloft under the clouds that gathered over the gray old town, smiling and waving to fans who had lingered for the trophy ceremony.
He and Nicklaus are the only Americans to win the Open twice at the home of golf, but that's not the record Woods wants.
Nicklaus won the 10th of his record 18 majors when he was 32, so Woods is ahead of pace in his pursuit of a standard that few expected ever would be touched.
"He knows as well as everyone else does that he's on his way to Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 and a record that we said would never ever come close, never mind be broken," Montgomerie said. "And he's over halfway now. Who knows? It will be very interesting over the next few years to see what happens."
The final round was hardly a nail-biter. Woods twice turned away threats by making two-putt birdies, then marched along as a strong cast of contenders, either major champions or players who have been ranked in the top 10, collapsed around him.
He played so well on another windswept afternoon along St. Andrews Bay that he was the only one to break par among the final 14 players.
Just think if Woods had not missed those two putts on the back nine at Pinehurst No. 2 last month, when he finished two shots behind Michael Campbell in the U.S. Open.
"He's awesome," Campbell said. "I think these were repercussions from a month ago where I knocked him off his pedestal for a week, which was quite nice to do. He's come back a stronger player and a better player."
It was Woods' fourth victory this year, and 44th in his PGA Tour career. He is tied for seventh with Walter Hagen on the all-time list, and Hagen's 11 career majors is his next immediate goal.
Woods will go to Balustrol next month for the PGA Championship as the prohibitive favorite to repeat his feat from 2000 when he won three majors.
Vijay Singh was in a large group of players at 7-under 281. He and Woods are the only players to finish in the top 10 in all three majors this year. But a year that began with talk about the "Big Five" is now focused on No. 1.
"There's no disgrace finishing second to the best player in the world," Montgomerie said.
Monty turned in a gallant effort to win his first major. He twice had eagle putts from 20 feet on the front nine that would have tied for the lead. When he tapped in the second one for birdie at No. 9, he was only one shot out of the lead and the Scottish gallery began to believe.
Woods was cast as the villain, dressed in black pants and a black vest over his traditional red shirt.
Equipped with a two-shot lead — he now is 32-3 on the PGA Tour and 10-0 in the majors with a 54-hole — Woods played to the middle of the green and was satisfied with pars.
But even as Olazabal and Montgomerie each got to within one shot, everyone seemed to know what was coming. None of the 18 players who began the day within six shots of the lead could make a charge, and Woods knew it.
Then came the decisive blows.
Ahead of him, Montgomerie just went over the par-3 11th green, chipped to 7 feet and missed to make bogey. Monty also missed a 6-foot par putt on the 13th to fall back to 10 under.
Olazabal drove into a cluster of gorse bushes left of the easy 12th hole and made bogey, while Woods' tee shot came up just short of the green, and he pitched perfectly to 4 feet for birdie.
Just like that, his lead was at four shots with six to play.
There was no defining moment, like his U-turn chip for birdie at the Masters, nor was there a late meltdown. Woods was relentless to the end, making work easy for the man engraving the winner's name on the claret jug.