Emotional Woods retains Open title

 

Just 11 weeks after the death of his father, Tiger Woods majestically returned today to doing what he does best - winning major golf titles.

In only his third appearance since his father's death, the 30-year-old was in imperious form at Hoylake as he became the first player to make a successful defence of the Open championship since Tom Watson in 1983.

As was the case at St Andrews in 2000 and last year, Woods controlled events as only he of the modern generation seems able - before bursting into tears in the arms of his wife Elin.

Fellow American Chris DiMarco pushed him almost as hard as he did at the Masters last year, but there was not even to be a play-off this time for the man whose mother passed away at the start of the month.

With a closing 67 Woods missed out on his own 19-under-par major record by one shot and beat DiMarco by two - with Ernie Els three strokes further back in third.

Woods takes his haul of majors to 11 and now stands joint second in the all-time list with Walter Hagen. The 18 of Jack Nicklaus remains a long way off, of course but it is getting closer and closer.

Formidable though the challenge looked after his indifferent round yesterday - Sergio Garcia, Els and DiMarco were all only a stroke behind with 18 holes to play - the writing was on the wall from the moment the world number one rolled in a 20-foot eagle putt at the long fifth.

Els, playing in the group ahead, had birdied the hole to draw level - but after Woods' putt dropped, nobody was to get back on terms.

DiMarco did cut his deficit back to two by two-putting the 534-yard 10th. But Woods did the same.

There appeared only one result at that stage. But when DiMarco made a 25-footer on the 13th just as Woods was bogeying the 12th after missing a green there was suddenly the slenderest of gaps between them.

It remained that way remarkably when DiMarco salvaged par from 40 feet at the 14th. Yet when Woods came to the hole - the one where he sank a four-iron for an eagle two on Friday - he fired in another glorious iron to seven feet.

In it went for a two-stroke lead again - and although DiMarco managed a brilliant birdie from the right-hand rough at the long 16th, Woods made an eight-footer for a second successive birdie and made it three in a row by two-putting the 16th.

He was three clear again and, even with DiMarco birdying the par-five last, he was never likely to lose from there.

After an interruption at the 18th when a demonstrator threw purple powder across the green, he safely parred the hole - the putt which would have equalled his own record pulling up a fraction short.

For DiMarco, it was a third runners-up finish in majors. He also lost a play-off to Vijay Singh for the 2004 US PGA championship, but as then there was some compensation for him.

Having struggled with his game ever since a skiing injury at the start of the year, he now leaps from 21st to sixth in the United States Ryder Cup table and should be at the K Club in September to partner Phil Mickelson just as he did in the Presidents Cup last year.

Garcia took another step towards securing an automatic place in the European side - but finishing joint fifth was not what he came for.

Els was not able to produce his best when he wanted it most either. But at least he was back in the hunt for a major a year on from the sailing accident - and the South African will move forward with more confidence.  PA