For Tiger, it's not so easy anymore

MIAMI -- The journey to immortality has taken an interesting detour. No longer does he win in a waltz. No longer does he stomp his opponents into submission. No longer does he enjoy a coronation over the final holes.

But Tiger Woods still wins.

He might not be blowing away the competition as he once did. He might be sweating more and laughing less. But the victories are still impressive.

Woods did it again Sunday at the Ford Championship at Doral, defending his title on the famed Blue Monster course where he defeated Phil Mickelson in an epic duel a year ago.

This time, there was no duel, but there was plenty of drama when Woods missed his first green of the day at the 17th hole, leading to a bogey.

All of a sudden, the brutal par-4, 460-yard 18th became a worry. David Toms, up ahead, was just one shot behind. Woods' tee shot was in the right rough, with the water to the left and a narrow, unrelenting green his target. Making par would not be easy.

But as it turned out, Tiger would not need par. Toms did him a favor by three-putting, paving the way for Woods to airmail his second shot into a back bunker, from where he could make the necessary bogey needed for victory.

For those who remember the 1999 and 2000 seasons, this is a different Woods.

Instead of crushing the opposition, he almost toys with it ... and lets them make the errors. He plays just enough offense, then goes on the defensive.

This is Woods' third straight victory on the PGA Tour in which he won when his nearest competitor bogeyed the last hole. He has let them make the mistakes.

It happened in October at the AmEx Championship, where Woods defeated John Daly in a playoff. It happened at the Buick Invitational, where Jose Maria Olazabal missed a putt in a playoff. It even happened last month at the Dubai Desert Classic, where Woods won in a playoff over Ernie Els, who bogeyed the playoff hole.

His other victory during that period? A win at the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan, where he defeated Kaname Yokoo in a four-hole sudden-death playoff.

It should be noted that four of those five victories came against former major championship winners.

"I look at it this way: I put myself there," Woods said. "If I put myself there enough times, those things are going to happen, as well as other guys are going to make birdies to beat me. That's the way it goes. As long as I'm there each and every time, it's not a bad place to be."

The scary thing for Woods' rivals is that he says he is so much farther along than he was a year ago at this point, when the swing changes he was working on with instructor Hank Haney were just taking hold.

Woods said he still was not comfortable then ... and went on to win two major championships.

He says he feels a lot better now, which must be comforting to those trying to beat him.

"I'm able to hit so many more golf shots now than I could last year at this time," he said. "And on top of that, I could fix it while I'm out there playing. Last year at this time I still had so many things I was working on that I had a hard time fixing it ... now I know exactly what to do and I can rectify it on the very next shot."

Woods added to his impressive array of numbers. He has now won 34 of 37 PGA Tour events when holding the 54-hole lead, and 20 of 20 when that lead is two strokes or more.

But most impressive is his ability to get it done when not everything is as easy as he once made it look.

Still, the victories count the same.

Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at harig@sptimes.com.