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DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — For those who thought Tiger Woods’ run as the world’s best golfer was over, the 747-sized roar that emanated from the 16th green at Muirfield Village likely shocked them to their senses.
With one flick of his wrists, Woods reminded everyone of who he was and what he has done.
Woods slid a 60-degree sand wedge under a ball hidden by tall grass behind the 16th green, popped the ball straight up into the air where it seemed to hang for an instant, and then watched as it rolled ever so slowly toward the cup before dropping in for a 50-foot birdie that tied him for the lead at the Memorial Tournament on Sunday.
If that birdie served notice, then another on a sneaky-fast 10-foot downhill putt at the 18th assured him of his fifth victory at the tournament that Jack Nicklaus built.
So, Tiger was asked, do you think you’re back?
“I won,” he joked with a wide smile. “I’m sure by Tuesday I’ll be retired and done, and then by the time I tee it up at the U.S. Open, it might be something different. But I’ll let you guys figure that out.”
Adding to the weight of the moment, the win tied Woods with Nicklaus — the tournament founder and host who handed him the crystal trophy on the 18th green — with 73 tour wins for second behind Sam Snead’s record 82.
Woods said it was “awfully special” to tie Nicklaus at the Golden Bear’s own tournament.
“Well, he had to rub it in my face right here, didn’t he?” Nicklaus cracked. “The last time he won here three years ago, he came here struggling a little bit and just absolutely blitzed it. And he did it again this week.”
Woods, four shots back and in fourth place at the start of the final round, closed with a 67 to match the best round of the day. He also saved his best for last, birdieing three of the final four holes under pressure conditions to make up a two-shot deficit as he teed off on the 15th hole.
After a big drive, he hit a 3-iron second shot on the par-5 15th to 40 feet past the flag. He two-putted for birdie. At the 16th, he hit an 8-iron that rode the wind and bounced off the green and about 15 feet into deep grass. A little too soft a shot and he would be left with a treacherous, twisting putt for par. Catch it a little thin and the ball could easily run all the way through the green and into a pond.
The sonic boom that erupted when the ball fell shook the whole course. The rest of the field, those who didn’t already know anyway, were reminded that Woods still can summon the thunder.
“Well, obviously, I knew something was going on up in front,” said Rory Sabbatini, who held a one-shot lead until Woods’ chip-in.
Rickie Fowler, one of the game’s most popular young players, was paired with Woods in a grouping that drew thousands of spectators. Fowler suffered through a miserable day that would end with him shooting a career-worst 84. But at the 16th, he knew he was witnessing some magic he’d seen before from Woods.
“It came out perfect,” Fowler said of the shot. “It landed right on the crown of that ridge there — and the rest is history.”