Tiger Woods was at his best Sunday at the Memorial. He hit nearly every shot just the way he wanted, worked the gallery into a frenzy with one last charge over the final hour, and left everyone buzzing - especially Jack Nicklaus - with a shot they will talk about for years.
Better yet was the timing of his 73d win.
Woods tied Nicklaus for career PGA Tour victories at the tournament that Jack built. And the 14-time major champion suddenly looks equipped to resume his chase of another Nicklaus mark that is more significant - 18 major championships.
The US Open starts June 14.
With a chip-in that even Woods called one of the toughest shots he ever made, he birdied three of his last four holes to close with a 5-under-par 67 and turn a two-shot deficit into a two-shot victory over Rory Sabbatini and fast-closing Andres Romero.
Coming off a two-putt birdie on the 15th, Woods hit 8-iron over the green at the par-3 16th and into an impossible lie. It was buried in deep rough, the pin 50 feet away along a ridge. Woods hit a full flop shot, hopeful to give himself a reasonable putt for par. Far more likely was the ball going short and down a slope away from the pin, or coming out too strong and rolling into the water.
No one was thinking birdie, not even Woods, until he took two steps and delivered an uppercut when the ball fell in the right side of the cup.
Nicklaus was gushing from the broadcast booth. “The most unbelievable, gutsy shot I’ve ever seen,’’ he said.
“Under the circumstances - the circumstances being Tiger has been struggling - it was either fish or cut bait,’’ Nicklaus said later. “He had one place to land the ball. He’s playing a shot that if he leaves it short, he’s going to leave himself again a very difficult shot. If he hits it long, he’s going to probably lose the tournament. He lands the ball exactly where it has to land. Going in the hole was a bonus. But what a shot!
“I don’t think under the circumstances I’ve ever seen a better shot.’’
Woods, who finished at 9-under 279, won the Memorial for the fifth time. At 36, he is 10 years younger than Nicklaus when the Golden Bear won his 73d tournament at the 1986 Masters. Sam Snead holds the PGA Tour record with 82 wins.
Asked about the endless chatter about whether his game is back, Woods eventually sighed and said, “I’ll let you guys figure that out.’’
Woods won for the second time this year and moved to No. 4 in the world.
Spencer Levin, who had a one-shot lead going into the final round, lost the lead to Sabbatini with a two-shot swing on the par-3 12th, then took double bogey on the next hole to fall from contention. He closed with a 75, the same score he shot in the final round at Phoenix when he had a six-shot lead.
That was nothing compared with Rickie Fowler, who played in the second-to-last group with Woods to help generate an enormous gallery. Fowler opened with a birdie, and his day fell apart after that. With a double bogey on the last hole, he closed with an 84.
It was the second time this year Woods has won in his final tuneup before a major. He won Bay Hill, but then tied for 40th at the Masters. Woods would be quite happy to take the game he had Sunday to San Francisco for the US Open. “That was some good stuff out there,’’ he said. “I never really missed a shot today.’’
LPGA - In Galloway, N.J., Stacy Lewis shot an even-par 71 to win the ShopRite Classic by four strokes over Katherine Hull.
Hull sank a 10-foot birdie putt at the final green to finish alone in second place at 8 under after a closing 68. Mika Miyazato and Azahara Munoz were both at 7 under after rounds of 68 and 69, respectively. Lexi Thompson, Anna Nordqvist, and Hee-Won Han finished 6 under.
European - Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee survived a poor start to win the Wales Open by one stroke, with a final-round 1-over 72 in wet conditions in Newport.
Champions - Jay Haas finished with a 16-under 197 total to win the Principal Charity Classic by five strokes in West Des Moines, becoming the first player to win the Champions Tour event in Iowa three times.
NCAA - Texas won its third men’s championship, defeating Alabama on a 20-foot birdie putt by senior Dylan Frittelli at Rivera in Los Angeles. With the match tied at 2, Frittelli came to the 18th hole all square with Cory Whitsett. After Whitsett’s birdie chip came up well short, Frittelli drained his opportunity.
Texas also won NCAA championships in 1971 and ’72, when Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite were on the team.