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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, January 7, 2002

Woods' rally proves he'll be tough again

 •  El Niño hits Kapalua
 •  Garcia tells golf media to get a grip
 •  Tournament historical statistics
 •  Golfers boost Maui recovery

By Bill Kwon
Special to The Advertiser

KAPALUA, Maui — He is Tiger Woods and still king of the world in golf.

Tiger Woods follows his drive from the third tee of the Plantation Course during the final round.

Associated Press

You just had to be at the Mercedes Championships yesterday at the Plantation Course to know it, as if you had any doubts.

Woods was 10 strokes back of the leaders going into the final round, but he still drew the largest gallery. He treated them to an 8-under-par 65 to record his sixth straight top-10 finish in elite winners-only tournaments.

Sergio Garcia, the new crown prince of golf and arguably Woods' most immediate challenger, put on a tremendous display of his own with an even better 9-under 64.

Pumping his fist a la Tiger after sinking a birdie putt at the 72nd hole to tie PGA Champion David Toms in regulation, Garcia followed up with another birdie at the 663-yard, par-5 finishing hole to win the playoff.

Off to New Zealand

Garcia's going to the Sony Open at the Waialae Country Club, while Tiger's taking his game to the New Zealand Open in tournaments beginning Thursday.

So there will be no clash of golf's young titans this week. Too bad.

"I'm looking forward to getting down there," said Woods, who had played five groups ahead of Garcia. "This is going to be a fun week for all of us. I've never been to New Zealand."

The "us" included his caddy, Steve Williams, who is from New Zealand.

"I'm going back to Steve's hometown and his home turf. That's where he grew up playing. Everyone's got a buzz about it," Woods said. "I'm looking forward to having fun, competing, playing, hopefully playing well."

Woods isn't concerned about an incident in which a letter containing cyanide was sent to the U.S. embassy there.

"I've had my fair share of them (such incidents)," said Woods, who was assured of his safety by tournament officials there.

"Things like that happen. You know, you have to go on living your life. It's unfortunate that people have these types of views and do these types of acts. I'm going to go down there, enjoy myself, try and play like I did today."

If he does, count on Woods adding the first-place purse to the $2 million appearance money he will receive to play in the New Zealand Open.

Good start to year

It was vintage Tiger yesterday as the kona winds finally calmed down to give the field a putting chance.

Despite starting the day in 16th place, Woods succeeded in recording yet another top-10 finish in the Mercedes Championships, which he won in 1997 and 2000.

And it was a good way to start the new year, according to Woods.

"Very good start. I'm pleased with the things I've been working on.

"It's just unfortunate for me that I didn't putt that well the last two days with the wind howling.

"I finally made a few putts today. I wasn't blown all over the place. It was just actually that I was able to stay steady, like I was the first day. (I) finally made some putts, got it going. From there, I tried to keep it going. I was able to do that."

He played both sides in 4-under, failing to birdie only one of the par-5s yesterday — the 18th.

While Woods can bank his $2 million in unofficial money, Garcia got a jump-start on his goal to become the No. 1 money winner in both the PGA and European tours.

Yesterday's victory was worth $720,000.

Woods said he thinks that being the year's leading money winner on the PGA and European tours — it has never been done — is doable.

"I would have done it in 1999, 2000? Something like that. What did I win Valderrama?"

Told it was in 1999, Woods added, "I would have got Montie (Colin Montgomerie) that year. I just would have had to play one more (tournament). The key is to do well in the big money events."

More than Tiger and Sergio

But the world of golf is more than Tiger and Sergio, according to Garcia, who says it is more a hype concocted by the media.

"I've always said there's not two guys playing the tournament. This one was 31 or 32. But there's usually about 125 or 130. All of them can play, and really well. I don't think you should just focus on one."

And you know neither will be standing pat on their game, especially Woods:

"I always keep saying to you guys, if I can keep improving every year, I will be very happy, because I know the wins will pile up."

That is from a guy who was Player of the Year for the past three years.