Tiger defies all odds when it counts -- as expected

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Arnold Palmer knew it was going in, and so did just about all those watching. With every eyeball at the Bay Hill Club fixed on Tiger Woods, a crowd of thousands around the 18th green held its breath. With the tournament on the line, the game's best player did what you expected him to do.

No way was he missing that putt, right?

Forget the fact that Woods had not made a putt outside of 20 feet all week, or that he had not made a birdie putt on the 72nd hole of a tournament to win in seven years. Or that, for once, somebody, anybody, truly made him sweat to win.

You just knew it was going in.

Because Tiger Woods does these kind of things.

"I kept telling myself, "I've done this before,'" Woods said, noting that he had nearly the same putt on the same line to win the 2001 tournament here by a stroke over Phil Mickelson -- the last time he won any tournament with a birdie on the final hole. "I did it against Phil. ... I've done it before and I can do it again."

And the legend grows a bit more.

Woods didn't have his swing for the first three rounds. He battled the dreaded nematodes that tattered the greens. He even had an uncharacteristic three-putt from 6 feet Sunday in which he missed a 2-footer for par.

But with that 25-foot birdie putt on Bay Hill's 18th, Woods stole Bart Bryant's Masters dream and kept alive another winning streak, one that has now reached five on the PGA Tour, six overall around the world and seven if you include the unofficial Target World Challenge.

Woods shot a 4-under-par 66 to capture the Arnold Palmer Invitational for the fifth time, but first since 2003.

Next up is the CA Championship at Doral -- where he has won three straight years.

"It didn't surprise me one bit," said Bryant, 45, who shot a final-round 67 to put the pressure on Woods on a sweltering day. "You've still got to chuckle, even though you're not surprised," the winner of three PGA Tour events said. "Anything he does anymore doesn't surprise me."

The victory was Woods' 64th on the PGA Tour, tying him for third-place on the all-time list with Ben Hogan, trailing only Jack Nicklaus (73) and Sam Snead (82).

Sean O'Hair, who won last week's PODS Championship, was paired with Woods in the final group, one of five players who began the round tied for the lead. He ended up tied for third, three strokes back, and was a witness to more history.

"I don't know what I said to him, but it was something like, 'Holy crap!'" O'Hair said. "What do you say? I can't even comprehend that. He's an incredible player, an amazing guy. He's got the mind for it and he's so mentally strong. He's achieving things that I don't think we've ever seen in sports."

"I won't tell you I wrote the script," said Palmer, the 78-year-old tournament host. "But I'll let you think so if you want to."

Woods' caddie, Steve Williams, couldn't believe the good karma.

"Amazingly, it was actually the same putt Tiger holed here when he beat Mickelson," Williams said. "It was almost exactly the same putt, same scenario."

And then there was the approach shot that set up the birdie, the 5-iron from 175 yards that Woods said was his best swing of the week.
The 18th was the second-toughest hole of the day and had yielded just five birdies. And Woods might not have executed the approach shot so well had it been another round of the tournament.

"We were struggling Thursday, Friday, Saturday," Williams said. "Yes, he got around in a good score. But this morning on the range at Isleworth, he found something, and it worked. He played particularly well today. He always seems to find it on Sunday. That's the perfect scenario -- you make a swing change, and that's the sort of shot you want to face."

Bryant had already posted 271, 9 under par. Woods was tied with him, and a playoff appeared imminent.

The Sunday flag at Bay Hill is not one to fire at. It sits on a little slither of the green, guarded by water on the right. But play too safe to the left and you can find yourself in a bunker.

"I played aggressive to a conservative spot," Woods said. "I wanted to make sure I made a very aggressive swing, and I was aiming at a tower, probably 15, 20 feet left of the hole. Just hit the ball on that tower. ... And it turned out absolutely perfect. That was the best swing I made all week."

That set up the final-hole dramatics, where Palmer stood on a hill overlooking the green and remarked to those around that he expected the putt to drop.

And, of course, it did.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.