Originally created 03/20/00

Woods captures Bay Hill title



ORLANDO, Fla. -- The world's best golfer proved again Sunday why he's the game's best front-runner and its best intimidator. After his conservatively convincing Bay Hill Invitational victory, can there be any other favorite heading toward the Masters than Tiger Woods?

It's apparent nobody can match Woods when he's on, especially not Davis Love III, trampled by Tiger for the fifth time in head-to-head meetings. Love, winless in almost two years, spent his Sunday night questioning his own moxie and fortitude, as he openly wondered what he must do to tame Tiger.

"There are very few guys that I say I cannot keep up with," Love said after his third runner-up finish here. "He's at the top of my list."

There's no need for such introspection concerning Woods. You understand that when Woods strangles a tournament lead, as he did at Arnold Palmer's event Friday, there will be no tripping over himself, no jogging to the finish line.

He's not going to pull a hamstring and collapse. You've got to come catch him, which nobody could do Sunday.

Woods celebrated his 100th week atop the world rankings by winning Palmer's event by four shots, finishing at 18-under par and avoiding bogey for the final 34 holes. He played his final round with the robotic conservatism found while making 16 pars and two birdies.

"It's a lot easier game when you're in the lead and your opponent is not hitting greens, like I did today," Love said. "Tiger did what he had to do. He drove it in the fairway, he hit all the greens, he made all of his par putts from 10 feet. He never came close to getting into trouble.

"I didn't make it hard on him. And he made it incredibly hard on me."

Woods certainly is making life hard for his PGA Tour compatriots, all of whom are trying to slow his enormous roll. It's Woods' third tournament victory this year, the 18th of his career in 76 starts, the 10th in the last 10 months. Woods has wins at Bobby Jones' tournament, Byron Nelson's, Jack Nicklaus's and now Palmer's, a legends grand slam.

"It's hard to sustain it for a long period of time," said Woods, who won for the 13th straight time when entering the final round with the lead.

"I think it all depends on how much golf you play, what you want to accomplish in the game, and the belief that you have in yourself."

He entered Sunday with a two-stroke lead over Love, the same golfer he defeated in a playoff in Las Vegas to win for the first time in 1996.

When Love failed to get up-and-down from a bunker at 2, then hit a 9-iron approach into the rocks at 3 for another bogey, Woods' lead grew to four.

Love made a slight charge with consecutive birdies at 10 and 11, but back-to-back three-putts at 14 and 15 clinched Woods' win. The resident of Sea Island, Ga., also didn't birdie a par-5 one day after tying Bay Hill's course record of 63.

"I made bogeys with 9-irons and 6-irons and sand wedges from either the par-3 tees or the middle of the fairways, and that's just not going to get it," Love said. "You get down three, four, five to Tiger, you're just not going to win, plain and simple."

Reach Rick Dorsey at (706) 823-3219.



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