ST. ANDREWS, Scotland (AP) – For Tiger Woods, there was no time to pause and pose when he reached the top of Swilcan Bridge on Sunday. A second British Open title awaited.

Woods strode swiftly across the stone arch, then removed his cap as he walked up the 18th fairway and onto his 10th major championship, a five-shot victory that marked a defiant return to dominance.

He never trailed over the final 63 holes at St. Andrews and turned in the first wire-to-wire victory at the Open in 32 years. Anyone who questioned his swing changes only had to look at his green jacket from the Masters and the claret jug he held aloft for all to admire.

“I’ve been criticized for the last couple of years. Why would I change my game?’ This is why,” Woods said. “First, second and first in the last three majors. That’s why.”

Earlier in the week, Jack Nicklaus bid the majors goodbye, stopping on the Swilcan Bridge for several minutes in an emotional farewell.

Woods’ crossing was also a goodbye – to the competition.

“He never looked like there was a chance for him to lose,” Nicklaus said from his home in North Palm Beach, Fla., where he watched the final round. “It was a pretty awesome performance.”

With a strong cast of contenders lined up behind him, Woods played some of his best golf of the week. He was the only player to break par in the final seven groups. He closed with a 2-under 70 for the largest margin of victory at a major in five years, and more indelible links to Nicklaus.

Woods and Nicklaus are the only players to win the Grand Slam at least twice, and the only Americans to win the British Open twice at the home of golf. Woods also completed the “Nicklaus Slam,” winning all four majors when the Golden Bear played for the final time.

Just as they did on Friday for Nicklaus, thousands of fans squeezed onto balconies and pressed their faces against windows to capture a historic moment. This one remains a work in progress.

“He has 10 of these majors now, and we all know Jack had 18,” Colin Montgomerie said. “He’s over halfway now. It’s amazing. Can he achieve the impossible? He’s on his way.”

Montgomerie provided the only serious challenge to Woods. He was only one shot behind after a two-putt birdie on the ninth, and the frenzied, flag-waving Scottish fans tried to will him to an improbable victory.

Woods was never fazed.

On a breezy afternoon, in conditions so dry that the fairways were faster than the greens, Woods didn’t miss a shot until his lead was up to six and his name was being engraved on the silver jug.

“My only bad shot was on 13 … and I pulled it 10 feet,” Woods said. “And that was it. I mean, I hit the ball so solidly today, all day. It was one of those rounds that I will be thinking about for a long time. I’m very thankful it happened at the right time.”

With a 1-2-1 start in the majors, Woods regained an aura about his play in the majors. Even after he won the Masters in a playoff, there were questions whether he could blow away the competition the way he did when he captured seven out of 11 majors.

But that’s exactly what happened on the Old Course.

He finished at 14-under 274, and even though Montgomerie and Jose Maria Olazabal each got within one shot during the final round, there was a sense of inevitability.

Montgomerie shot 72 to finish second at 9-under 279, his best finish at a major since he was runner-up at the 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional.

“There is no disgrace finishing second to the best player in the world,” Montgomerie said.

Olazabal lost his way in the gorse and pot bunkers and wound up with a 74, making a birdie on the last hole to tie for third at 280 with Fred Couples, who finished his 68 before the leaders reached the turn.

“It’s hard, but I don’t think it’s impossible,” Olazabal said about trying to make up a two-shot deficit against Woods. “But it’s close to impossible.”

Nicklaus won his 10th major when he was 32, so the 29-year-old Woods is ahead of pace in his pursuit of a standard that few expected ever would be touched. Next up is the PGA Championship in four weeks at Baltusrol, where Nicklaus twice won the U.S. Open.

“When I first started playing the tour, I didn’t think I’d have this many majors before the age of 30,” Woods said. “No one ever has. Usually, the golden years are in your 30s for a golfer. Hopefully, that will be the case.”

The final round was hardly a nail-biter.

Woods twice turned away threats by making two-putt birdies, then marched along as a strong cast of contenders – either major champions or players who have been ranked in the top 10 – collapsed around him.

Just think if Woods had not missed those two putts on the back nine at Pinehurst No. 2 last month, when he finished two shots behind Michael Campbell in the U.S. Open.

“He’s awesome,” Campbell said. “I think these were repercussions from a month ago where I knocked him off his pedestal for a week, which was quite nice to do. He’s come back a stronger player and a better player.”

It was Woods’ fourth victory this year, and 44th in his PGA Tour career. He is tied for seventh with Walter Hagen on the all-time list, and Hagen’s 11 career majors is his next immediate goal.

“It’s just hard to tell what Tiger Woods is capable of,” said swing coach Hank Haney, who also felt some measure of vindication from a year of scrutiny. “He’s obviously a special player.”

Vijay Singh was in a large group of players at 7-under 281. He and Woods are the only players to finish in the top 10 in all three majors this year. But a year that began with talk about the “Big Five” is now focused on No. 1.

“He’s setting the bar so high and he’s so strong,” Couples said. “He’s always the guy to beat.”

Monty turned in a gallant effort to win his first major. He twice had eagle putts from 20 feet on the front nine that would have tied for the lead. When he tapped in the second one for birdie at No. 9, he was only one shot out of the lead and the Scottish gallery began to believe.

Woods was cast as the villain, dressed in black pants and a black vest over his traditional red shirt.

Equipped with a two-shot lead – he now is 32-3 on the PGA Tour and 10-0 in the majors with a 54-hole lead – Woods played to the middle of the green and was satisfied with pars.

But even as Olazabal and Montgomerie each got to within one shot, everyone seemed to know what was coming. None of the 18 players who began the day within six shots of the lead could make a charge, and Woods knew it.

Then came the decisive blows.

Ahead of him, Montgomerie just went over the par-3 11th green, chipped to 7 feet and missed to make bogey. Monty also missed a 6-foot par putt on the 13th to fall back to 10 under.

Olazabal drove into a cluster of gorse bushes left of the easy 12th hole and made bogey, while Woods’ tee shot came up just short of the green. He pitched perfectly to 4 feet for birdie.

Just like that, his lead was at four shots with six to play.

There was no defining moment, like his U-turn chip for birdie at the Masters, nor was there a late meltdown. Woods was simply relentless to the end.

More than halfway to Nicklaus’ benchmark, Woods sounded as though he was just getting started.

“No matter how good you play, you can always play better,” he said.

AP-ES-07-17-05 1821EDT

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