AKRON, Ohio (Reuters) - Tiger Woods eased to a seven-shot victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational on Sunday, earning his 79th win on the PGA Tour and sounding an ominous warning to his rivals ahead of next week’s PGA Championship.
Seven strokes ahead overnight, the world number one left an elite field trailing in his wake as he signed off with an even-par 70 at Firestone Country Club to land a record eighth title in the World Golf Championships (WGC) event.
Woods played rock-steady golf on a warm, blustery afternoon at one his favorite venues, barely making a mistake on the way to a 15-under total of 265 for his fifth PGA Tour title this year in only 11 starts.
With his eighth victory at Firestone, he equaled the mark he already shares with Sam Snead for most wins at a single PGA Tour event.
It also leaves him just three shy of matching the Hall of Famer’s record 82 career PGA Tour victories. Since turning professional in late 1996, Woods has won at least five times on the U.S. circuit in 10 separate seasons.
“The total body of work is pretty good,” Woods told reporters after earning the winner’s check for $1.5 million.
”One thing I‘m proud of is obviously how many times I’ve won, how many World Golf Championships I’ve won, but also how many years I’ve won five or more times in a season.
“That’s something I‘m very proud of is how many tournaments I’ve been able to win consistently, year-in and year-out, and then how many World Golf Championships I’ve been able to win.”
Fellow American Keegan Bradley, the defending champion, closed with a five-birdie 67 to share second place at eight under with Swede Henrik Stenson (70).
”It was a really weird feeling because it was like a tournament within a tournament,“ said Bradley. ”Coming in second is a big accomplishment considering Tiger had such a big lead.
“It’s very tough to give Tiger that many shots. The round he shot on Friday was pretty special. You know, I hate to sit here and go on and on about how good he is, but he is.”
The tournament was effectively over after Woods distanced himself from his rivals with a stunning nine-under 61 on Friday and virtually every spectator on Sunday had eyes firmly focused on the world number one.
The galleries were lined three-to-four deep on the right side of the fairway before Woods teed off in the final round, fans having welcomed him with shouts of “Go Tiger” and “79”.
After using an iron off the tee at the par-four first to find the left portion of the fairway, he struck his approach just short of the green into the rough from where he chipped five feet past the hole and made the putt to save par.
Wearing his trademark Sunday red shirt, Woods played solidly for the next eight holes, lining up mid-range birdie putts on each green while squandering his only close opportunity from six feet at the second.
Out in level-par 35, Woods recorded his only birdie of the day at the par-four 10th, sinking a seven-footer to briefly stretch his advantage to nine strokes.
The quality of his iron play was stellar all day and it came as a surprise when he made his only error of the round with a three-putt bogey from long range at the par-four 14th for his lead to be cut to eight.
That lead then shrank to seven when Bradley birdied the par-four 17th but Woods safely parred his last four holes to complete the 18th WGC win of his career in 42 starts.
“Being as blustery as it was, it was going to be really hard for someone to shoot 62 or 63 today,” said Woods, who after his round picked up his young son, Charlie, before setting off to sign his card.
“If I didn’t give any shots away today and played my game and shot even par or better, I’d have to force these guys to go and shoot something super low on a golf course that wasn’t going to give it up under these conditions.”
U.S. Open winner Justin Rose carded a 69 to finish at one under, two strokes better than British Open champion Phil Mickelson, who said he lacked the requisite sharpness all week as he signed off with a 71.
Northern Irish world number three Rory McIlroy closed with a 72 to end a largely disappointing week as he prepares for his title defense at the PGA Championship.
“I keep saying my game doesn’t feel too far away,” said McIlroy. “It’s obviously not where I want it to be, but it’s not a million miles away.”
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Julian Linden