DUBLIN, Ohio, June 4 – With golf icon Jack Nicklaus watching in amazement, Tiger Woods added another epic shot and tension-packed victory to his own legendary career Sunday by winning the Memorial for his 73rd pro title.
Woods won for only the second time since his infamous sex scandal erupted in November 2009 after chipping in for birdie from dense rough 48 feet from the cup at the par-3 16th hole at the Nicklaus-designed Muirfield Village course.
That pulled Woods level for the lead and the 36-year-old American won his fifth Memorial crown when South African Rory Sabbatini made bogey at 16 and Woods closed with a birdie.
Woods, a 14-time major champion chasing the all-time record of 18 major titles won by Nicklaus, caught Nicklaus for second on the all-time US PGA win list, each of them now nine back of Sam Snead’s record 82 career triumphs.
“To be able to tie Jack at 73 wins and to do it at such a young age, it feels really special,” Woods said. “And to do it with Jack there at 18, he means a lot to all us players. He’s the greatest champion that ever lived.
“And to pull off that shot at 16, that was kind of sweet, too.”
Matching the shots that were commonplace for Woods a decade ago but have been rare in the past two injury-nagged seasons, Woods blasted the ball from the rough, plopped it just onto the green and watched it roll into the cup.
“It was one of the hardest ones I’ve pulled off,” Woods said. “More magic than memory, I think.”
Woods, who had felt ill and feverish entering the weekend, knew that he risked sending the ball into a water hazard on the far side of the green if he botched the shot.
“The shot was really difficult, but it wouldn’t have been so bad if I had a good lie,” Woods said.
“I went for it. I pulled it off and for it to land as soft as it did was kind of a surprise. It just fell in. I didn’t think it was going to get there at one point. And then it fell in.”
The last-roll aspect of the shot brought back memories of an epic putt at the 16th hole at Augusta National when Woods used a slope to send a putt into the cup, the ball hanging on the edge of the hole just before dropping in.
“What a shot,” Nicklaus said. “I don’t think under the circumstances I have ever seen a better shot.
“Tiger has been struggling. He found himself in a position where it was either fish or cut bait. He had one place to land the ball. If he leaves it short, he’s going to leave himself again a very difficult shot. If he hits it long, he’s going to probably lose the tournament. He lands the ball exactly where it has to land. Going in the hole was a bonus.”
In his final tuneup event for the US Open in two weeks at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, Woods showed his game was in fine form.
“Just every shot was exactly the shape, the trajectory, the distance control — I had it all today, shape off tees, whatever club I wanted to hit, I could hit. That was fun to have it when I needed it.”
And to match the career total that Nicklaus did not achieve until age 46 at the event hosted by Nicklaus made the result all the sweeter.
“It just makes it that much more special,” Woods said. “If I would have won it somewhere else, it would have just been I tied Jack. But to do it here and have him here right next to me, that means something. It’s awfully special.”
Nicklaus replied to the adoring comments with a joke, saying, “He had to rub it in my face right here, didn’t he?
“No, if he was going to do it, which he was obviously going to, I would like to see it happen here. That was great. And the way he did it, he just played great.”
Woods snapped a 17-month win drought in March at Bay Hill in a PGA event hosted by another golf icon, Arnold Palmer, but was a disappointing 40th at the Masters two weeks later.
“At Bay Hill I played well on that Sunday, but I just didn’t quite have the control I did today,” Woods said. “I’m able to hit the ball, compressing it higher than I did at Bay Hill.
“At Augusta I got exposed, wasn’t able to get the ball up in the air comfortably, and it showed. Went to work on it for the next few weeks, and I finally got it. It came around here when I needed it.”
Woods had no comment about the drunken driving arrest of his agent, Mark Steinberg, in suburban New York on Saturday night.