PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. - A weekend filled with sharp words between Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia came down to one last showdown yesterday in The Players Championship, this one staged across the water in a tiny, terrifying section of the TPC Sawgrass.
Tied for the lead with two holes to play, Woods kept his shots on land and made two pars.
Garcia hit three balls into the water for a quadruple bogey-double bogey finish.
If there was special satisfaction in beating Garcia again, Woods kept that to himself. What mattered was having a chance to win, closing it out like he does so often, and capturing the richest prize on the PGA Tour for the first time in a dozen years.
"We just go out there and play," Woods said. "I had an opportunity to win the golf tournament when I was tied for the lead today, and I thought I handled the situation well and really played well today when I really needed to. And that's something I'm excited about it."
Woods allowed the final hour to turn into a tense duel by hooking his tee shot into the water on the 14th hole for double bogey. But his short game bailed him out to save par on the 15th and make a critical birdie on the 16th, and he was solid on the final two holes for a 2-under 70.
If only it were that simple for the Spaniard.
Garcia was standing on the 17th tee, staring across to the island green to watch Woods make his par. He took aim at the flag with his wedge and hung his head when he saw the ball splashed down short of the green. Then, Garcia hit another one in the water on his way to a quadruple-bogey 7. The meltdown was complete when Garcia hit his tee shot into the water on the 18th.
"It's always nice to have a chance at beating the No. 1 player in the world, but unfortunately for me, I wasn't able to this week," Garcia said.
Woods was in the scoring trailer when he watched on TV as Swedish rookie David Lingmerth missed a long birdie putt that would have forced a playoff. It raced by the cup, and Lingmerth three-putted for bogey.
"How about that?" Woods said to his caddie, Joe LaCava as he gave him a hug.
Woods finished at 13-under 275.
He won The Players for the first time since 2001 and became the fifth multiple winner at Sawgrass since The Players moved to this former swamp in 1982. It was his 78th career win on the PGA Tour, four short of the record held by Sam Snead. And it was his first time winning with his girlfriend, Olympic ski champion Lindsey Vonn, at the tournament.
Lingmerth closed with a 72 and finished two shots behind along with Kevin Streelman (67) and Jeff Maggert, who also was tied for the lead until finding the water on the 17th to make double bogey. The 49-year-old Maggert birdied the 18th for a 70.
Garcia took 13 shots to cover the final two holes and tumbled into a tie for eighth.
There was a four-way tie for the lead after Woods made his double bogey, and the infamous 17th green took out Maggert and Garcia. After Garcia went into the water twice, Lingmerth missed an 8-foot birdie putt that would have tied him for the lead.
Given their public sniping at each other over the weekend, it was only fitting that Garcia had the best chance to beat Woods.
Their dispute started Saturday when Garcia complained in a TV interview that his shot from the par-5 second fairway was disrupted by cheers from the crowd around Woods, who was some 50 yards away in the trees and fired them up by taking a fairway metal out of his bag. He said Woods should have been paying attention, and it became a war of the words the next 2 days.
"Not real surprising that he's complaining about something," Woods said.
"At least I'm true to myself," Garcia retorted. "I know what I'm doing, and he can do whatever he wants."
When they finished the storm-delayed third round yesterday morning, Garcia kept at it, saying that Woods is "not the nicest guy on tour."
Woods had the last laugh. He had the trophy.