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GOLF ROUNDUP : Woods Wins Fifth Tournament of Year

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From Associated Press

Even the best golfers in the world can’t afford to give Tiger Woods a second chance on the final day of a tournament.

Woods lost another big lead but revived his game just in time to make a 20-foot birdie putt at the 17th hole Sunday, securing a one-stroke victory in the NEC Invitational at Akron, Ohio, against the most elite field in golf this year.

“Winning never gets old,” said Woods, who finished with a one-over 71 to hang on against Phil Mickelson.

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No, but this business of big putts on the 17th hole is getting routine.

In 1996, Woods won the first of three consecutive U.S. Amateur titles by making a birdie on the famed island green on the TPC at Sawgrass at Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. He won his second major championship two weeks ago by making a pressure-packed eight-footer for par on the 17th hole of the PGA Championship at Medinah, Ill.

And there he was at the 17th hole at Firestone Country Club, clinging to a one-stroke lead. As his putt for a birdie rolled into the cup, Woods knelt and fired off four pumps of the fist when it crept in, sensing how critical it was.

He had to two-putt from 60 feet for bogey on the final hole to finish at 10-under 270, one stroke ahead of Mickelson, who bogeyed two of the last three holes but still shot a 65.

“There’s something about having to make one on 17,” Woods said. “I stay focused--that doesn’t change. It’s just that the ball seems to go in.”

The victory against a field of Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup players in what used to be known as the World Series of Golf was his fifth in his last eight tournaments and earned him $1 million, the largest payday of an already lucrative career. At $4,266,585 this year, Woods becomes the first player ever to earn more than $4 million on the tour in one season.

And at 23, he becomes the youngest player to win five times in one season since Jack Nicklaus won the Sahara Invitational in 1963 at the exact same age. He is also the first player since Nick Price in 1994 to win five times in a year.

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This was similar to his PGA Championship victory, when he led by five with seven holes to play and had to hold off 19-year-old Sergio Garcia. Woods’ hung on after his lead nearly evaporated when he pulled two short par putts on the back nine.

Mickelson can blame this blown opportunity on two bad shots, a layup that found the rough on the par-five 16th, and a drive into the rough on the closing hole, that led to bogeys.

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Dottie Pepper, who had struggled throughout the final round, rattled in a 35-foot birdie putt from just off the green on the 72nd hole for a two-stroke victory over Kellie Kuehne in the LPGA Oldsmobile Classic at East Lansing, Mich.

Pepper, who won her second major at the Nabisco Dinah Shore earlier in the season, shot a two-under 70 for an 18-under 270 total at Walnut Hills Country Club to earn $105,000.

Kuehne, who started the day five shots back in a five-way tie for second, finished second alone after shooting a 67.

Rosie Jones and Karrie Webb, the LPGA’s leading money-winner, tied for third at 275. Each shot a 70 in strong cross winds over the final round.

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Pepper, as she had done so many times during the final two rounds, drove into the right rough on the final hole. She hit her seven-iron approach shot from thick rough onto the green, but the ball rolled just off the putting surface and into the first cut.

That allowed her to leave the pin in the cup, which proved to be important. Pepper’s putt came out a little hot, but the ball hit the pin dead center and disappeared into the hole as Pepper jumped for joy and the crowd cheered.

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Jim Ahern, playing in only his seventh Senior PGA Tour event, parred the second playoff hole to defeat Hale Irwin and win the $1.35 million Canadian Senior Open at Ste-Julie, Quebec.

It was the second week in a row that Irwin, a five-time winner this year, lost in a playoff to a first-time senior winner. Tom McGinnis defeated Irwin last week at the BankBoston Classic.

The 50-year-old Ahern, a qualifier whose previous best finish was 18th, won the $202,500 top prize as well as a one-year exemption from qualifying on the senior tour.

He birdied the last two holes in regulation, including a 15-footer from the fringe on the 72nd hole to force the playoff as he and Irwin finished at 16-under 272 at Richelieu Valley Golf Club.

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Ahern had a final-round 68, while Irwin, the third-round leader, had a 69.

Ahern missed a 15-foot birdie putt on the second hole, but Irwin missed a six-footer for par. Ahern broke into tears after making his five-foot par putt for the victory.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Masterful

Tiger Woods won for the fifth time this year on the PGA Tour to increase his season earnings to a record $4,266,585. His final round was a one-over 71, but you can’t argue with the results:

FRONT-RUNNER

Woods has won nine of the 10 tournaments he has led after three rounds (Note: Woods was tied for the lead after 54 holes of the 1997 Western Open and the 1999 PGA Championship):

Year Tournament Result

1996 Quad City: Tied for 5th

1997 Masters: Won

1997 GTE Byron Nelson: Won

1997 Western: Won

1998 BellSouth: Won

1999 Buick Invitational: Won

1999 Memorial: Won

1999 Western: Won

1999 PGA Championship: Won

1999 NEC Invitational: Won

WOODS’ SCORING AVERAGE IN 1999

First two rounds: 69.61 (1st)

Third round: 69.75 (14th)

Final round: 71.38 (48th)

Overall: 69.83 (1st)

Rankings through Aug. 23; statistics through Sunday

WOODS’ LAST FIVE PGA EVENTS

First two rounds: 69.3

Third round average: 68.8

Final round average: 71.6

Overall average: 69.75

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

(D1) WOODS BY THE NUMBERS

5: Tour victories, in lst eight starts, in 1999

$1 million: His purse for winning the NEC Invitational

$4,266,585: His PGA record for earnings this season

23: Years old, youngest since Nicklaus to win 5 in season

12: Place on PGA career earnings list

Final Results

PGA NEC INVITATIONAL--Par 70

270 (-10)--$1,000,000

Tiger Woods: 66-71-62-71

271 (-9)--$510,000

Phil Mickelson: 69-67-70-65

275 (-5)--$327,500

Craig Parry: 71-66-69-69

Nick Price: 67-69-68-71

276 (-4)--$234,000

Ernie Els: 71-69-67-69

PGA RENO-TAHOE OPEN--Par 72

274 (-14)--$495,000

Notah Begay III: 70-69-63-72

277 (-11)--$242,000

Chris Perry: 68-71-70-68

David Toms: 68-70-70-69

280 (-8)--$113,667

Fred Funk: 69-71-73-67

John Cook: 68-70-73-69

Brandt Jobe: 69-69-69-73

* Next: Greater Vancouver (Canada) Open

CANADIAN SENIOR OPEN--Par 72

272 (-16)--$202,500

x-Jim Ahern: 67-68-69-68

272 (-16)--$118,800

Hale Irwin: 67-65-71-69

273 (-15)--$97,200

Ed Dougherty: 68-70-68-67

x--Won on second playoff hole

* Next: Kansas City Classic, Kansas City, Mo.

LPGA OLDSMOBILE CLASSIC--Par 72

270 (-18)--$105,000

Dottie Pepper: 67-63-70-70

272 (-16)--$65,165

Kelli Kuehne: 68-70-67-67

275 (-13)--$42,269

Rosie Jones: 67-69-69-70

Karrie Webb: 66-70-69-70

276 (-12)--$29,940

Beth Daniel: 71-65-69-71

* Next: State Farm Rail Classic, Springfield, Ill.

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