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Woods, Nicklaus Claim Battle At Bighorn
by Doug Ferguson

PALM DESERT, Calif. (AP) ? Jack Nicklaus knocked down a flag and Tiger Woods took care of the rest Monday night as the best players of their generations lived up to the billing in the Battle at Bighorn. On a sweltering afternoon in the desert, Woods torched Bighorn with the kind of performance he could have used in the British Open. He made nine birdies in 16 holes and carried Nicklaus to a 3 and 2 victory over Sergio Garcia and Lee Trevino.

Nicklaus made only a few contributions, but they were memorable.

Despite an ailing back and 62-year-old legs, Nicklaus hit a 7-iron that kissed off the flagstick for a tap-in birdie on No. 9 as he and Woods won four straight holes in the middle of the match and turned this battle into a breeze.

The fourth annual made-for-TV exhibition pitted two of the best players from their generations in a best-ball match.

They didn't disappoint.

Woods was 9 under for his round when the match ended under the lights on No. 16 with his 3-foot par putt. So dominant was his performance that he didn't even get a chance at two other birdie putts inside 10 feet.

Nicklaus stole the show on those two holes, making his only other birdie on No. 13 with a 12-foot putt.

Trevino, the 62-year-old "Merry Mex" contributed three birdies and most of the conversation. The only time he stopped talking was when he hit the ball.

And the night wasn't a total loss for Garcia, the 22-year-old Spaniard known lately for the countless waggles and regrips. Nicklaus tried to counsel him on the strange habit, telling Garcia that he, too, was guilty of slow play.

"Finally, I had a couple of penalty times and I learned to play faster," Nicklaus told him.

Despite making five birdies, Garcia got another lesson that he knows all too well.

"We had our chances, but we missed too many putts on the front nine," he said. "When you're playing against a guy of this caliber, if you don't make the putts, you can't afford it."

Birdies were a must in the best-ball format.

The only hole that someone didn't birdie was the last one. Garcia had a 15-footer to extend the match, but it slipped by on the left.

Nicklaus had not played with Woods since the first two rounds of the 2000 PGA Championship at Valhalla, where Woods went on to win in a playoff for his third out of four consecutive majors.

"I know now that I have no business playing on the regular tour," Nicklaus said. "If you see the way Tiger and Sergio play, there's no such thing as a par-5 anymore. My partner was great. And I like to win."

So does Woods, who came out with a focus that belied the hit-and-giggle event. Garcia is the only player to have beaten Woods in the Battle at Bighorn, and Woods seemed bent on gaining some revenge in the middle of a team event.

It all led to a far more compelling match than last year, when hot blasts of desert wind, ridiculously tough conditions and an alternate-shot format guaranteed a snoozer in a mixed-team match featuring Woods and Annika Sorenstam against David Duval and Karrie Webb.

That wasn't the only difference.

The conversation was off the charts, most of it thanks to the Merry Mex.

Trevino started gabbing from the moment he arrived on the practice range, and stopped only long enough to hit the ball.

"All you have to do is shut up and listen," Woods said after the eighth hole.

Woods spoke volumes with his club.

With temperatures topping out at 107 degrees, Woods got off to a blazing start by hitting his approach into 6 feet for birdie on the first hole, then making a 15-footer for birdie on No. 2.

"If he keeps doing that, there's no sense putting the lights up," Trevino said to Garcia.

Trevino must have wanted to see those lights, because he answered with birdie putts of 10 and 15 feet on the next two holes to square the match, and Garcia got in on the act with a 12-foot birdie putt on the par-3 sixth hole for a 1-up lead.

That was fleeting.

Woods and Nicklaus won the next four holes, the turning point coming on No. 8 when all four players had the hole surrounded.

Nicklaus went first, rifling a 2-iron into 12 feet. Woods hit 5-iron, and the ball stopped about 10 inches from going into the hole. He caught Nicklaus looking at his choice of club and said, "I just took a little off it."

Trevino and Garcia both pulled their 10-foot putts to fall 1-down, then Nicklaus finally contributed with a shot that brought out the loudest roar of the match - a 7-iron that hit the flag and stopped a foot away.

"That was the highlight," Woods said. "Lee called it. He said, 'Jack is going to hit this one stiff."

Trevino and Woods slapped hands as the crowd roared.

This time, there was plenty to applaud.

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