Tiger Woods clinched a 13th major title with a hard-fought victory in the USPGA at a steamy Southern Hills in Oklahoma.
The world number one held off a spirited challenge from Ernie Els and Woody Austin to inch to within five of Jack Nicklaus’ major record.
The 31-year-old was three clear overnight but saw a five-shot lead whittled down to one before edging Austin by two and Els by three.
Woods carded 69 for -8, American Austin took 67 and South African Els shot 66.
Australian John Senden and American Arron Oberholser finished one under, while England’s Simon Dyson carded a blistering 64 to rocket into a share of sixth at level par and guarantee a return next year.
Woods’s victory gave him back-to-back USPGA titles for the second time – he won in 1999 and 2000 – and a fourth USPGA in all. Fellow Americans Jack Nicklaus and Walter Hagen lead the way with five apiece.
The win was built on a sensational round of 63 on Friday when Woods lipped out for birdie on the 18th to miss out by one shot on the record for the lowest score in major history.
A solid 69 on Saturday gave Woods a three-shot cushion over Stephen Ames going into Sunday’s final round but the Canadian quickly melted away in the heat to end on two over after a 76.
Woods leaked a couple of wayward drives early on and his lead was cut to two after a bogey on the 2nd to journeyman Austin’s birdie up ahead.
But as Woods settled down, the lead fluctuated between two and five shots as the challenges of Austin and Els ebbed and flowed.
Els, six behind overnight, missed golden birdie opportunities on the 9th and 11th but he and Austin both reconvened on six under, two back, after their 14th and 13th holes respectively.
“It was pretty exciting. I was trying to get the crowd to go crazy for someone else, so he’d know there’s someone else out here,” said the 43-year-old Austin, playing in only his 15th major.
Woods looked worried and a three-putt on 14 brought the gap down to just one.
But Els fell back again up ahead on 16 before Woods bounced back impressively with a 12 footer for birdie on the 15th.
Woods pointed at the cup as the ball dropped as if he knew that would be the death knell for his pursuers.
“I said going to 15, ‘you got yourself into this mess, now get yourself out of it. That birdie was huge,” said Woods, who won last week’s WGC Invitational by eight shots.
From then on he strolled unchallenged to his first major title of 2007 following second at this year’s Masters and US Open and tied for 12th at the Open Championship in Carnoustie.
Woods’ wife Elin and two-month-old daughter Sam were beside the 18th green to watch him hole the winning putt and he admitted that was a special moment.
“That is a feeling I have never experienced before and to have her (Sam) here brings chills to me even now. It’s so cool,” he said.
The victory gave Woods 59 PGA Tour wins in 213 professional starts, fifth-best on the all-time list behind Arnold Palmer (62) and five off Ben Hogan in third. Sam Snead holds the career win mark at 82, nine ahead of Nicklaus.
All seven winners of majors held at Southern Hills have now led at both the 54 and 36 hole stage, while the winner of the USPGA has come from the final pairing for the past 11 years.
Els, 37, insisted he is going in the right direction following a fourth place at last month’s Open.
“My putts on the 9th and the 11th holes and the drive on 16 are the three shots I’d like to have back,” said the world number four.
Els won the US Open in 1994 and 1997 and the Open at Muirfield in 2002 and has had eight top 10s in majors since then.
But he missed most of 2005 after injuring his knee on a sailing holiday and is still trying to rediscover his previous form.
World number three Phil Mickelson carded 17 pars and one birdie in a closing 69 for six over as he struggles back from a wrist injury.
Photo courtesy of BBC.com