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"Ugly' round looks good to Woods

He defends Bay Hill Invitational title for 1st PGA win since September.

This is why Tiger Woods scoffed at the notion he was in a slump.

If ever you could describe his game in derogatory terms _ for him _ it was Sunday, when scurrying spectators were about the only target he could hit off the tee.

"It was ugly," he said. "I didn't really know where (the ball) was going to go but forward."

And he still won.

Woods needed several good bounces _ including one off a spectator's neck at the 18th hole to keep his ball from going out of bounds _ and some spectacular short-game wizardry to even have a chance.

And then he summoned his best for last, hitting a laser 5-iron from 191 yards to 12 feet on No. 18 and holing the birdie putt for a one-shot victory over Phil Mickelson in the Bay Hill Invitational.

The performance was far from vintage Woods, which served to hammer home the point about his supposed slump. Woods had gone eight PGA Tour events without a victory, back to September's Canadian Open, the third-longest streak of his professional career.

Yet during that time, he never finished worse than 13th in any tournament. You can play well and not win, he said. Sunday he proved you can play poorly and win.

"That's the beauty of our game," Woods said. "It's very fickle. That's one of the reasons why we all love to play it because there are days when you go out there and you play great. Other days, you play great and you score like a dog.

"Some days you go out there and do what I did today: play not very good at all, don't really know where the golf ball is going to go, but you somehow get the ball in the hole quicker. Days like today are more satisfying to shoot the same score than going out there and puring every shot."

Woods' 3-under-par 69 at the Bay Hill Club was good for a 72-hole total of 273, 15 under par. By defending his title, Woods captured the 25th victory of his PGA Tour career, moving him into 20th place on the all-time list, two wins behind Lee Trevino. He won $630,000 from the $3.5-million purse and denied Mickelson his second victory of the year and 19th of his career. Grant Waite finished third. Sergio Garcia, who began the round a shot behind Woods, shot 74 and tied for fourth.

Mickelson shot the best round of the day, a bogeyless 6-under-par 66 that was nearly good enough to win. On a cool, difficult day for scoring, Mickelson was one of six players to shoot in the 60s. He forged ahead of Woods on the back nine with birdies at the 11th, 12th, 15th and 16th holes, then waited as Woods birdied the 16th and 18th to beat him.

"I felt like I did what I needed to do to ultimately win, and Tiger did the same," said Mickelson, who earned $378,000 for second place. "He just did what he needed to do. I did think he'd make it (at 18), just because he normally does that. He normally does make it when he needs to."

But Woods could not put the ball in the fairway when he needed to. "I was just trying to keep the ball between the little O.B. (out of bounds) stakes and keep it on the property," said Woods, who struggled to do so.

At the par-5 16th, trailing Mickelson by one, he nearly hooked his tee shot out of bounds. Yet he was able to hit a 7-iron from the rough onto the green and two-putted for birdie to tie.

At 18, he hit another hook that appeared to be headed out of bounds. Woods wasn't very concerned.

"With that many people over there, it was more than likely it was going to smoke somebody," he said.

It did. Tony Dekroub of Tampa got in the way of the errant shot. Woods got a drop, then had 191 yards to the hole. His 5-iron was perfect.

"That was probably the best shot I hit all week," said Woods, who poured in the putt.

And it gave him that all-important "slump-busting" victory.

"Today was very satisfying, with the fact that it was not a pretty round of golf," Woods said. "But I scored well. I got the ball in the hole. From that perspective, it's a great feeling to win."