Woods captured his 73rd career title with a five-under par 67 final round, putting him on nine-under par 279 after 72 holes, two strokes ahead of South African Rory Sabbatini and Argentina’s Andres Romero.
“I hit it good today,” Woods said. “That was some good stuff out there. I never really missed a shot. I hit it great. I had the pace of the greens really nice and I made a few putts.”
Added to the legend of Woods was another spectacular shot — the superstar blasting out of the rough for a 48-foot chip-in birdie on the par-3 16th hole to seize a share of the lead.
“That was one of the most incredible golf shots I think you will ever see played,” said Nicklaus, serving as a US television commentator.
“That was an unbelievable shot. That was the most unbelievable gutsy shot I’ve ever seen. If he hits it long the tournament is over. If he hits it short the tournament is over. He puts it in the hole.”
Woods, a 14-time major champion chasing the all-time record of 18 major titles won by Nicklaus, pulled even with the legend in all-time US PGA wins, both now nine adrift of Sam Snead’s record 82 triumphs.
“It has been a pretty nice run since I turned pro,” Woods said. “To do it at age 36, that’s not too shabby. I have been very proud of what I have done so far. I have a lot of good years ahead of me.”
“At Olympic, we’re all going to have to hit the ball great,” Woods said.
Nicklaus, who won the last of his titles at the 1986 Masters at age 46, designed the Muirfield Village course where Woods has won five Memorial crowns — in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2009 and this year.
But nothing in any of them was like the birdie Woods sank at the 16th, when he blasted the ball high out of the rough, landing it just on the green, and then watched it roll into the cup.
Woods reacted with a right fist pump, a double downward fist pump and another right fist pump, all while screaming with joy as the crowd roared in delight.
“I just hit it perfect,” Woods said.
As Woods walked off the course, Nicklaus told him, “That shot at 16 was the best I’ve ever seen here.”
Woods had snapped a 17-month win drought at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March at Bay Hill, but was lackluster since then, sharing 40th at the Masters and Players Championship and missing the cut at Quail Hollow.
Woods, who last won a major title at the 2008 US Open, had not won an event in which he was not the 54-hole leader since 2009.
Woods birdied the par-4 second and ran off three birdies in a row starting at the par-5 fifth and ending at the par-5 seventh, but stumbled with bogeys at the par-3 eighth and par-4 10th, stalling him two strokes off the pace.
But 54-hole leader Spencer Levin stumbled with bogeys at the 10th and 12th holes and a double bogey at the par-4 13th.
Sabbatini charged to the top at eight-under with birdies at the par-5 11th and par-3 12th and Romero added to the pressure with an eagle at the par-5 15th and a closing birdie to reach the clubhouse on 281.
That’s when Woods charged. He missed a 43-foot eagle putt at the 15th but tapped in for a birdie to pull within one of Sabbatini.
Then came his amazing shot at the 16th, but that only put him level with the South African. Sabbatini followed, however, with a bogey at the 16th to give Woods the lead alone and Woods followed with a nine-foot birdie putt at 18.
When Sabbatini failed to hole his approach shot at the 18th, the last hope of denying Woods was dashed.