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Sunday, January 27, 2013
Only a rout will do for Tiger Woods

By Farrell Evans
ESPN.com

SAN DIEGO -- Over his 18-year career, Tiger Woods has won by 8 shots or more 14 times. To watch him distance himself from a field with a flurry of birdies was like witnessing a first-round knockout punch in a boxing match.

But the sting usually lingered over four days and 72 holes.

With a commanding 6-shot lead with 11 holes left to finish his final round Monday at the Farmers Insurance Open, Tiger is headed toward another double-digit winning margin, his 75th PGA Tour title and seventh victory at this Torrey Pines-hosted event.

"It was a long day," said Woods, who started his third round with a 2-shot lead after a 65 on Friday. "I mean, we played most of the day, and I played well today. Overall, I'm very pleased that I was able to build on my lead.

"I hit the ball good. It seemed like I was always in pretty good position."

On a clear but cold Sunday at the San Diego municipal course, Tiger shot a 3-under 69 in his third round. Then to start his final round, he added three more birdies before play was suspended due to darkness to end his day with a 17-under par total, 6 shots clear of Brandt Snedeker and Nick Watney.

"I've got to continue with executing my game plan," Woods said. "That's the idea. I've got 11 holes to play, and I've got to go out there and play them well."

It's hard to know what this victory could mean for Tiger's future, other than it would put him one more win closer to Sam Snead's PGA Tour record 82 titles.

If he can't win at Torrey Pines, it's doubtful he can win anywhere. Last year in his comeback season, his three titles came on courses where he has had phenomenal success -- Bay Hill, Muirfield Village at the Memorial and Congressional.

What's clear is that Tiger hasn't looked this good at this point in the season since he last won here in 2008. That year, Tiger captured his first three events, including the Farmers Insurance Open before a leg injury ended his season after his U.S. Open win on the Torrey Pines South Course.

In 2008, Tiger won this event by 8 shots. It wasn't the greatest victory of his career, but it was the beginning of a short but fabulous year that climaxed with one of the most heroic efforts in major championship history.

Last year in his first two events on the PGA Tour, Tiger had a tie for 15th at Pebble Beach and a second-round loss at the WGC-Accenture Match Play. Then he had three top-5s, including the win at Bay Hill before a disappointing tie for 40th at the Masters.

Based off that stellar play going into the Masters, many of us had Tiger as a favorite to win his fifth green jacket. But through the first quarter of that season, he had shown some glaring weaknesses in his short game and inconsistencies with his ball striking that would spell doom later on in the majors.

But all signs from this week at Torrey Pines point to an improved Tiger -- ready to break through for at least a 15th major in 2013.

His game isn't perfect. Foul balls and escape shots still fill his playbook, but the confidence to salvage bad holes with great recoveries is at full power.

On a basic level, a win with a wide margin on Monday for Tiger represents a 75th career victory and seventh at this tournament, but more importantly it symbolizes his dominance.

It won't be good enough for him to win by a single shot. He wants to obliterate the field. A rout of this magnitude puts the world on notice that he's finding the game to again be the best player in the world.

On Sunday evening, Watney revived an old adage that I once heard David Duval use to describe the burden of catching Tiger with a big lead.

"All I can do is I'm going to try to make as many birdies as I can," Watney said. "I've got 11 and 12 that are tough, and hopefully, maybe he can help me out a little bit, I don't know.

"But I can't just hand it to him, as a competitor. So we'll come out and see how close we can get."