SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – In a phenomenal display of power between golf’s two biggest sluggers, Tiger Woods outlasted John Daly in the American Express Championship because of a 3-foot putt.

Woods made up two shots over the final three holes Sunday to force a playoff, then won on the second extra hole when Daly three-putted for bogey from 15 feet on the 16th, badly pulling his short par putt.

It was a somber end to a riveting afternoon along the shores of Lake Merced, where some 20,000 fans crammed along the fairways and cypress trees were treated to 350-yard drives and drama rarely seen this side of a major.

Woods closed with a 2-under 68 and won the American Express Championship for the fourth time in six starts.

It was his sixth victory of the year, and given a bad swing and ribs that had to be taped before the final round, this was as impressive as any.

Daly shot 69 and had two chances to win. He missed a 16-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole in regulation, then had a birdie putt from 15 feet on the second extra hole that just grazed the left side of the cup. Fans scrambled to the next hole, none of them imagining that Daly would miss from 3 feet.

“I feel so bad for J.D.,” Woods said. “You never, ever want to win a golf tournament like that.”

But he’ll take it, along with the $1.3 million prize that pushed his season to over $9.9 million and, with two tournaments left on his schedule, gave him a shot at beating the record set by Vijay Singh a year ago.

Colin Montgomerie missed birdie putts of 6 and 10 feet to cost himself a chance for his first official victory on U.S. soil, but kept alive his hopes with a 12-foot birdie on the 17th to get within one shot.

But he missed the 18th green, chipped weakly and took bogey for a 70 that left him in a three-way tie for third at 272 with Henrik Stenson (68) and Sergio Garcia (69).

The 8-foot par putt Monty missed on the last hole was worth $159,500. Still, he earned $353,666 to move past Michael Campbell atop the Order of Merit and is poised to win Europe’s money title for the eighth him.

The other winner was Harding Park, the municipal course with a $16 million makeover that proved to be a worthy test for the best players in the world.

Woods and Daly shot 10-under 270, and only 24 of the 71 players who started the event finished under par.

It was the third time this year Woods has rallied in the final round to win, and his second victory in a playoff to increase his career record to 7-1 in extra holes. The other was the Masters, which he won with a birdie.

This time, he needed some help.

Daly, who had never lost in two previous playoffs – won of those the British Open in 1995 at St. Andrews – was magnificent with every club except the putter. He lost his two-shot lead in regulation when Woods birdied the 16th, and Daly three-putted from 30 feet at No. 17, missing a 5-footer for par.

But the 3-footer was a stunner.

“I know Tiger didn’t want to win that way,” Daly said. “I didn’t want to lose that way. It’s very disappointing.”

The crowd felt anything but that.

Their loyalties were evenly divided, and they about screamed themselves hoarse on the 18th hole in the playoff, the most daunting hole at Harding Park that requires a tee shot over Lake Merced and a row of cypress trees.

First came Woods, hammering away into the blue skies, the roar shaking the grounds when it found the middle of the fairway, then rolled into the first cut. Next up was Daly, a grip and a rip, then reaching over to pick up his cigarette as the ball landed some 10 yards ahead of Woods.

It was like that all day.

Harding Park was graced with brilliant blue skies above and an endless supply of thrills below.

Four of golf’s most notable figures – Daly, Woods, Montgomerie and Garcia – were locked in a four-way battle really took shape on the seventh hole.

Woods tried to drive the green and went left the flag into the rough, leaving him no shot until he threw up a wedge out of the junk that stopped a few inches from going in for a tap-in birdie to get within one of Daly.

In the final group behind him, Garcia played it safe with an iron off the tee, then looked like a genius when he holed out his wedge from 110 yards that spun hard into the cup for eagle and a share of the lead. Montgomerie made a rare birdie putt and was within one shot.

But it didn’t take long for Woods and Daly to separate themselves.

Woods was three shots behind and finding more shade in the trees then sunshine on the fairways, but he fired off three straight birdies, the last one an approach from 205 yards into 3 feet to catch Daly at 10 under.

Daly responded by chipping in from 55 feet across the 13th green for birdie. In the group ahead, Woods’ went from rough-to-rough on the 14th and couldn’t recover, making bogey to fall two behind, and Daly again had control.

Daly being Daly, it wasn’t that simple.

He had a two-shot lead with three holes to play when Woods hit a wedge that stopped 4 feet away for birdie on the 16th, and Daly three-putted the 17th.

For all his length, a short putt cost him the lead.

Another one cost him the tournament.

AP-ES-10-09-05 1847EDT


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