AKRON, Ohio (AP) — They say par is a good score in a major.
If that’s true next week at the PGA Championship, then Tiger Woods has already done his share of preparation.
Woods played safe and smart with a big lead, parring 16 holes in an even-par 70 Sunday to coast to a seven-shot victory at the Bridgestone Invitational for his eighth win at the event — matching the PGA Tour record he already shared for victories in a single tournament.
“As blustery as it was, it was going to be really hard for someone to shoot 62 or 63,” Woods said. “If I didn’t give any shots away and played my game and shot even par or better, I’d force these guys to go and shoot something super low on a golf course that wasn’t going to give it up under these conditions.”
As he walked to the scorer’s trailer to finalize his score, he scooped up 4-year-old son Charlie, who hugged him tightly as his father strode past the large gallery wildly cheering his landslide victory.
“This is the first win he’s ever been at,” Woods said. “That’s what makes it special for both of us.”
Daughter Sam was on hand when Woods, won the U.S. Open in 2008, before his personal life imploded. Now Charlie will have some memories of dad in the winner’s circle.
“They always say, ‘Daddy, when are you going to win the tournament?’ It was a few years there, or a couple years, I hadn’t won anything,” Woods said, smiling. “‘Are you leading or not? That’s a stock question. ‘Not leading.’ ‘Well, are you going to start leading?’ ‘Well, I’m trying.'”
After a second-round 61 in which he flirted with 59, Woods ended up at 15-under 265 to easily beat defending champ Keegan Bradley and Henrik Stenson.
Bradley, a huge fan of Tiger’s when he was a youngster, was asked if he liked to see Woods dominate like he did a decade or so ago.
“When I was younger, I did,” Bradley said. “You know, I hate to sit here and go on and on about how good he is, but he is. It’s difficult because I really want to get up there and contend with him. But he’s just … this week he’s playing really well.”
Woods’ mastery at Firestone Country Club allowed him to again match Sam Snead’s PGA Tour record for wins in an event. Snead won the Greater Greensboro Open eight times. Earlier this year, Woods won at Bay Hill for the eighth time.
As if he weren’t already the favorite next week in the PGA Championship at Oak Hill, the lopsided victory reinforced it.
No one ever got within six shots all day of the world’s No. 1.
When he had a good shot at a pin, he took it. Otherwise, he took few, if any, risks.
He birdied the 10th hole, then offset that with a three-putt bogey at the 14th hole. But by then most of the field was thinking about catching flights to Rochester instead of catching Woods.
Bradley, who won a year ago when Jim Furyk double-bogeyed the 72nd hole, shot a 67 to get to 8 under along with Stenson, who had a 70 while playing with Woods.
“He kind of punctured this tournament on Friday,” Stenson said. “He did what he needed to do today.”
Tied for fourth were Cleveland-born Jason Dufner (71), Miguel Angel Jimenez (69) and Zach Johnson (67) at 6 under. Bill Haas and Chris Wood each shot a 71 and were at 5 under, with Martin Kaymer, who matched the day’s best round with a 66, at 4 under along with Furyk, Richard Sterne and Luke Donald.
For those betting Woods won’t win next week at Oak Hill, keep in mind that he has already won both the Bridgestone and the PGA Championship in the same year three times in his career (2000, 2006, 2007).
Still, the odds do not favor him coming right back with another win. In the 19 times in which he has won his last start before a major, he’s only followed up with a win four times: 2000 U.S. Open (after winning The Memorial), 2001 Masters (Players), 2006 PGA (Buick) and 2007 PGA (Bridgestone).
The victory was Woods’ 79th on the PGA Tour, drawing him within three of Snead’s record 82 triumphs.
“The total body of work is pretty good,” Woods said. “One of the things I’m proud of, obviously, is how many times I’ve won, plus won World Golf Championships and how many years I’ve won five or more tournaments in a season. What is it, like eight or nine times? Ten? That’s not bad, either.”
Lest anyone think he’ll have difficulty surpassing Snead’s total, consider that Woods is over 10 years younger (he’s 37½) than Snead was when he won his 82nd and final event, the 1965 Greater Greensboro.
Even though he’s a California native, Woods has found a second home in Ohio where he has 13 victories — five at the Memorial Tournament.
Woods won the Bridgestone, and it’s forerunner the NEC Invitational, about every way imaginable: overcoming a crazy shot that went onto the clubhouse roof, putting out in almost total darkness, running away early, outdueling a foe down the stretch.
Woods, who has five wins this year to have at least that many in a year for the 10th time, also has won 18 World Golf Championship series events in just 42 starts.
Really, he won the tournament in the rain Friday.
The 61 he had in the second round — he needed to go just 2 under over the final five holes to shoot a magical 59 — matched his career best, mustered three previous times including once before at Firestone.
In the two previous times he won the Bridgestone and then played in the PGA Championship, he finished first at Southern Hills in 2007 and then placed second — blowing a final-round lead to Y.E. Yang — in 2009 at Hazeltine.
He’s far from a lock next week, however.
Woods has not won in his last 17 starts in a major, calling into question his shot at surpassing Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 victories in majors. Woods has 14 — and all eyes will be on him as he heads to Pittsford, N.Y.
Among those watching him will be the defending champion.
“The second-round 61 was phenomenal,” 2012 PGA Championship winner Rory McIlroy said. “He does well on every course he plays, but he comes back to a few courses on tour that he seems to really excel at.
“And, obviously, this is one of them.”
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