Originally created 03/20/00

March to Masters begins with victory for Woods



ORLANDO, Fla. -- Tiger Woods began his march to the Masters in style.

He won the Bay Hill Invitational on Sunday by four strokes over Davis Love III, matching his largest margin of victory in a PGA Tour event since his 12-stroke romp at Augusta National three years ago.

With masterful control of his entire game, Woods led by at least two strokes throughout the final round. He closed with a 2-under 70 for his third victory this year in just six tournaments.

Woods, who finished at 270, won $540,000 to bring his season total to more than $2.5 million. Only he and David Duval won more money all of last year.

It was the 13th consecutive time on tour, and 15th time around the world, that Woods had at least a share of the 54-hole lead and went on to win. It also was the third straight time since November he faced Love and experienced little pressure.

Of course, Woods had a lot to do with that.

"I had the lead," he said. "I figured I could put pressure on him by hitting a lot of fairways and greens. I feel pretty good about my short game right now."

Love started the day two strokes behind and never got any closer. He birdied the 18th hole for a 2-under 72 and finished second in Arnold Palmer's tournament for the third time.

"I made too many mistakes," Love said. "You're not going to beat Tiger playing like that."

Skip Kendall had a 67 and finished third.

Woods has been pointing to the Masters since the season began, but each tournament draws him that much closer. And each round only sends a stronger message that he will be the man to beat.

Woods was 12-under on the par 5s this week and rarely put himself in serious trouble. Whether a new winning streak is about to begin remains to be seen, but Woods always seems to give himself a chance.

He now has gone an entire year without finishing worse than 18th in a stroke-play tournament, and his victory at Bay Hill was his 10th in his last 16 tour events.

Love, meanwhile, will have to go back to the drawing board.

He has never beaten Woods when he has had a chance, an 0-5 record that dates to the 1996 Las Vegas Invitational, Woods first victory as a professional. The last two losses, both blowouts, came in match play, which is essentially what the final round was all about.

"I've learned my lessons," Love said after the third round. "You've got to try not to get caught up in the moment."

Sunday was one of those moments, a day bustling with excitement. Bay Hill sold more tickets than ever before, the gallery forming a massive aisle to the first tee and standing four deep all the way down the 441-yard first hole.

And Love appeared to get caught up in it.

He bogeyed from the front bunker on No. 2, dropped another shot on No. 3 when his approach bounded left against the rocks guarding the water, and yet another when he failed to birdie the 530-yard fourth hole and Woods two-putted for birdie from 40 feet.

Suddenly, Woods' lead was five and Love was looking lost.

Four down at the turn, Love slowly crept back into a view with a 6-foot birdie on No. 10 and a 10-footer on the 11th that shaved the lead in half and gave him hope that he could pull off the kind of comeback that Woods has patented.

But Love couldn't sustain the momentum. His approach on the par-5 12th found the bunker and he failed to get up-and-down to match Woods' birdie.

"That was my chance," Love said.

The end got messy. Love missed a 2-foot par putt that rimmed around the cup, and he chunked a wedge from the fairway that led a bogey on the next hole, giving Woods plenty of breathing room.

The way Woods is playing, he didn't need much.

Divots: John Daly didn't make an 18, but he felt just as bad after signing for an 87 in the final round. "That's the worst I've felt since the Dutch Open," where he says he played the final three holes in 1 under to shoot 89. Daly said the epoxy came out of his putter head on the seventh hole, and he couldn't execute any of his shots. "I can't even imagine shots or where they're going to go," he said. "It's embarrassing. I don't know what else to do." Daly had nothing worse than a 7, but made only nine pars. ... In the 12 times Davis Love III has played a fourth round at Bay Hill, he has shot in the 60s only once. ... Phil Mickelson, the '97 champion, hit three balls in the water on the par-5 sixth and took a 10. He finished with a 78, his worst score at Bay Hill.