Tiger#039;s good enough even when struggling

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 29, 2005

We should all have days as frustrating as the one Tiger Woods said he experienced Sunday at Firestone Country Club.Woods won his fourth NEC Invitational and collected his 45th PGA Tour victory.

He drained a dramatic 18-foot putt on No. 16 to regain a lead he never relinquished.

He earned a career-best $1.3 million first-place paycheck and learned that the course he treats like a trip to the ATM machine is guaranteed to host a tournament for at least five more years.

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Don't you feel his pain? Just the kind of day that has most of us speed-dialing our therapist or Delilah.

"It was so frustrating out there because I was hitting it so well," said Woods after carding a 1-over-par 71 for a 1-stroke win over Chris DiMarco. "I hit so many good golf shots and got nothing out of my round because I kept missing putts."

You would love to make fun of that if he wasn't being so sincere. That's what separates Woods and the rest of the golfing universe. He can win a prestigious tournament and genuinely express disappointment. The world expects so much from Woods. He expects more. It's why on days like this one, where he took four bogeys and missed five putts from within 10 feet of the cup, he was still championship material.

Even when he's not at his best, Woods is often good enough. He avoided the big mistakes and late-round hiccups that doomed so many of his competitors.

Playing partner and co-third round leader Kenny Perry imploded over the final 10 holes. DiMarco and Paul McGinley suffered crucial bogeys on No. 17.

A surging Stuart Appleby fell apart, when his caddie Joe Damiano unwittingly picked up his ball after a drop on No. 13. The rule states a dropped ball must roll at least two club lengths before it can be touched.

It was that type of day at a wind-swept Firestone.

DiMarco knew it even as his wife tried to ply him with hope in the clubhouse.

"If you are hoping for him to make a bogey, you didn't do what you needed to do," said DiMarco, who also lost a playoff to Woods at this year's Masters.

"Bridesmaid is getting old, I can promise you that … This one really kind of (ticks) me off for a lack of a better word."

All of this era's golfers have known that feeling against Woods. He is the best player of his generation and destined to be the best of all time. Five victories this season in 17 tournaments. How's that for a winning percentage?

What happened to all that chatter about a Tiger slump?

OK, Firestone galleries have witnessed him in better form than Sunday. He won by 11 strokes in 2000 and needed an epic seven-hole playoff against Jim Furyk a year later. He neither propelled himself nor was pushed to greatness this time. But Woods proved he could still win without his best stuff, that he could win with several "atrocious" putts.

That is truly frustrating. Not for Woods, but everyone trying to catch him.

Tom Reed is a sports columnist for the Akron Beacon Journal.