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JUNIOR WORLD GOLF CHAMPIONSHIPS : Woods Rallies to Win His Sixth Optimist Title

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Don’t let his big eyes, bony arms and knobby knees fool you. Eldrick “Tiger” Woods of Cypress, just a babe at 15, is the man-child of golf.

With a final-round 69 on the par-72, 6,706-yard Torrey Pines South course Friday, Woods won the Optimist Junior World Golf Championships for the sixth time. No one else has claimed more age-group titles.

Woods became the first 15-year-old to win the 15-17 division of the 24-year-old event.

Tournament officials, anticipating what they got, rolled out the red carpet for him this year, making him the first player to be exempt from qualifying.

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For these and many other achievements, Woods is getting more attention than Jack Nicklaus at this age. It certainly showed in the way the youngster dealt with the media after his latest victory. Exiting the conference room with a soda in hand, he rolled his eyes and sighed after he was told a television crew was waiting for him outside.

Legs crossed and reclining on a clubhouse sofa several minutes earlier, Woods showed he’s already schooled beyond his years in dealing with the media. He knows precisely how to respond to questions like: How many tournaments have you won?

“I have no idea,” he said without hesitation. “I quit counting after 11-and-under. I had 110 trophies. I threw them all into the garage.”

Woods, who began playing golf at 2, was flanked by his biggest challengers, Mark Worthington, 16, of Redmond, Wash., and Chris Riley, 17, of San Diego.

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Said Worthington, the third-round leader who finished in a tie for fifth: “I did not play good today, but I got to play with Tiger. I had never seen him before. I only read about him in Sports Illustrated.”

With Woods making four birdies and one bogey in the final round, Worthington was out of the spotlight.

Worthington, playing his first Junior World tournament, built a four-shot lead after 36 holes. But a four-over 76 Thursday reduced his lead to one entering the final round.

His 78 Friday included four bogeys and a double-bogey on 14. His 294 total for four rounds was eight strokes behind Woods, who made up nine shots on the final 18 holes to finish at 286.

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After it was over, Worthington, who took up the game at 11, said he registered late and was simply glad to be here. But Woods, who gets part of his tutoring from a clinical psychologist, said he was never shaken by Worthington’s early lead, only by his own nerves.

“I don’t care if it’s Tom Watson playing next to me,” he said. “I’m just trying to win the tournament.”

In earlier rounds, Woods was erratic--spectacular on one hole, sloppy on the next. In the second round he had eight birdies, four pars and six bogeys. Riley, who will be a senior at San Diego Madison High, matched Woods stroke-for-stroke through three rounds. Each entered the final day at 217 on rounds of 74-70-73.

After Worthington dropped out of the lead by bogeying the first and sixth holes, Riley and Woods were tied heading into the back nine after shooting 35s on the front.

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Riley took a one-stroke lead when he birdied the 195-yard 11th hole. But the lead was short-lived after his tee shot on 12 landed in a sand trap and he made bogey. Woods reached the green in two on the 452-yard par-four hole and sank a 10-foot putt for a birdie and the lead.

Woods, 6-feet and 137 pounds, also birdied the par-5, 519-yard 13th.

Riley, who has played several tournaments with Woods but found himself in his first shootout with the champion, bogeyed 17 and finished second at 289.

“My time will come,” Riley said.

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Woods all but thanked Riley for the bogey on 13.

“That was a big-time turnaround; that took a load off me,” said Woods, who said he was plagued by youthful anxiety throughout the tournament. “I couldn’t sleep last night. I always have that problem. I was nervous the whole round. I want to win.”

Woods was one of eight boys and five girls who qualified for an expenses-paid entry in the Japan World Junior Golf Championships next month. But he’s passing on it because he has been at home only one day the past three weeks. Plus, he’d rather concentrate on the Aug. 5 U.S. Amateur qualifying round at Carlton Oaks.

Asked what his strategy might be for that event, Woods responded like an often-interviewed pro:

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“I’ll just try to hit the fairways and greens.”

Notes

Dan Dalton of Huntington Beach shot 75 Friday to finish with a 299, 13 shots behind winner Tiger Woods. . . . Vibeke Stensrud, 17, of Oslo, Norway eagled the par-5 11th hole and shot par 74 on the 6,104-yard Torrey Pines North course to win the girls’ 15-17 tournament by two strokes over Erika Hayashida of Catalina, Peru, and Skyli Yamada of Sandy, Utah. Stensrud finished with a four-day total of 301 and became only the third foreign player to win the tournament. Alicia Allison of Santa Ana finished fifth at 308.


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