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WOODS TEARS UP FIELD, WINS BY 8 AT BRIDGESTONE

Firestone always seems the perfect place for Tiger Woods to be at his best.

This year, the timing could not have been much better.

In the final event before the final major of the year, Woods buried Rory Sabbatini and the rest of the field Sunday at the Bridgestone Invitational for an eight-shot victory, sending his confidence soaring as he left for Southern Hills and the PGA Championship.

"This might just give me a little more confidence," Woods said.

It was a command performance on a tough course, reminiscent of some of his major wins.

He was determined to play the final round without bogey, just like the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, and Woods showed more emotion over saving par with a 12-foot putt on the final hole than any of his birdies in his 5-under 65. He finished at 8-under 272.

He was the only player to finish under par at Firestone; the only other times he had done that were his two U.S. Open victories. And after turning a one-shot deficit into a six-shot lead on the front nine, Woods left everyone else playing for second.

"The whole idea was to win this event, but be playing well going into next week," Woods said.

Sabbatini took another step backward. The fiery South African lost a one-shot lead to Woods in the Wachovia Championship this year, then said Woods looked "beatable as ever."

Not on this course.

It was the second time Woods has strung together three straight victories at this World Golf Championship, and he tied a PGA Tour record by winning for the sixth time on the same course. Jack Nicklaus won six Masters at Augusta, and Alex Ross won six times at the North & South Open at Pinehurst No. 2 at the turn of the 20th century. Woods also won for the 14th time in 25 tries at the World Golf Championships.

Sabbatini closed with 74, just as he did in the final group with Woods at Wachovia. Justin Rose saved par on 18 for 68 that left him tied for second with Sabbatini.

Asked if he would temper his comments in the future, Sabbatini looked indignant.

"Why?" he said. "I hope I inspire him and play well enough that I can give him a good challenge."

PGA: Steve Flesch shot par 72 in blustery conditions to hang on for a five-stroke victory at the Reno-Tahoe Open, his third career win and first in more than two years. Flesch, who began the day with the same lead after rounds of 63-69-69, had three birdies and three bogeys to finish at 15-under par 273. He missed only 10 greens his first 54 holes but hit only three of his first 10 Sunday with winds gusting up to 30 mph on the edge of the Sierra Nevada.

CHAMPIONS: D.A. Weibring birdied the last three holes to overtake Jay Haas and win the 3M Championship by one in Blaine, Minn. Weibring shot 5-under 67 for a three-day total of 18-under 198.

EUROPEAN: Per-Ulrik Johansson won the Russian Open in Nakhabino by six strokes, closing with 5-under 67 for his sixth tour title but first since 1997. Johansson finished at 23-under 265.

FUTURES: Clearwater's Jenny Gleason made three bogeys and no birdies during a final-round 3-over 75 to tie for third at the USI Championship in Concord, N.H. She finished at 2-under 214, five behind the winner. Kelly Lagedrost of Brooksville finished at 2-over 218, tied for 15th.

SABBATINI LOSES COOL, HAS FAN TOSSED AT NINTH

AKRON, Ohio - The ninth hole is where all the action is at Firestone Country Club.

After Rory Sabbatini made double bogey and was walking away from the ninth green, retired firefighter and paramedic Steve Banky said, "Hey, Rory. Still think Tiger's beatable?"

Sabbatini, six back of Woods at the time, barked at a police officer and demanded - with an obscenity thrown in - the fan be taken "out of here."

"I wasn't trying to dog him," Banky said. "At the press conference he had, he said Tiger was beatable. I just called him on it."

Associated Press

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