Tiger Woods was trained by his father from the age of 6 months to be a golfing champion.
On Sunday, he confirmed - again - his budding greatness with a shot worthy of a champion.Moments after hitting a 140-yard fairway shot within 16 inches of the cup on the final hole of the U.S. Amateur, the 19-year-old Stanford student had his second straight victory in the tournament and his fifth national title in five years.
Only four other players have captured as many national titles as Woods: Bobby Jones, with nine; Jack Nicklaus, with eight; and Jay Sigel and Jerome Travers, five each.
That's heady company for a young man who hasn't even started his sophomore year in college. But Woods maintained the best thing about beating 43-year-old Pennsylvania auto dealer Buddy Marucci was winning the automatic invitations to the Masters and U.S. and British Opens that go to the U.S. Amateur champ.
"It's the experience that I get to have because of winning" that's the best reward, Woods said.
Woods' experience playing slick fairways and wind-blown links courses in this year's British and Scottish Opens may have been the key to winning at Newport Country Club, which is as similar to St. Andrews' Old Course as any 18 holes in America.
That and the hours of practice he put in after being let down by short-iron shots in the Masters.
"I spent hours and hours on the range and it paid off on the 18th hole," Woods said. "It's nice to see that hard work pays off."
One-up heading to the final hole, Woods lofted his second shot from the middle of the fairway and watched it spin back to the pin. He pumped his fist as he walked up to the green.
"I hit it straight and let the wind just ride it," Woods said.
The match ended when Marucci, of Berwyn, Pa., missed a 20-foot birdie putt and conceded Woods' putt.
"I'd be pretty arrogant if I said I wasn't thrilled (with making the final)," Marucci said. "I don't think it'll ever be the one that got away. . . . I can live with losing to Tiger."
Woods, of Cypress, Calif., is 36-3 in U.S. Golf Association matches, winning the U.S. Junior in 1991, '92 and '93 before becoming the first black winner and youngest U.S. Amateur champion last year.
While the victory was not as dramatic as his 1994 comeback from 6-down at Ponte Vedra, Fla., Woods struggled to shake Marucci, who stayed close with smart, conservative play and a strong short game.
Woods said older amateurs like Marucci and Maine's Mark Plummer, who Woods beat in Saturday's semifinals, are tough opponents even if they can't match his distance game.
"They may have hit the ball all over but they got up and down and they made all the putts they looked at," Woods said.