AKRON, Ohio (AP) -- The best head-to-head match in golf this year might have come a month before the Ryder Cup even begins.
Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk swapped great shots and even greater recoveries before Woods finally birdied the seventh extra hole Sunday to win the NEC Invitational for the third year in a row and end the longest tour playoff in a decade.
"It was a war out there because neither one of us was going to give an inch," said Woods, who won for the fifth time this year. "I was able to hang in there just a little bit longer than Jim."
Woods started the day two shots back of Furyk. By the time they came to the 18th green for the first time, they were tied atop the leaderboard.
That's when the fun began.
Both hit their approaches into the same bunker, Furyk hitting out short and Woods long. Both two-putted for bogey -- Woods completing a 1-under-par 69 and Furyk a 71 to finish at 12-under 268 -- forcing a playoff.
Playing No. 18 again, Woods hit to the middle of the green and Furyk bounced his shot into the same bunker he had just come out of. Furyk's first blast from the sand didn't make it out of the trap and rolled back in.
After Woods left his birdie putt 4 feet short, Furyk whisked a high shot that landed softly and slowly rolled down, catching the rim of the cup and rattling around before dropping.
Furyk jumped up, pumped his fist and yelled to the crowd. Woods watched nearby, then moments later hit his par putt.
"I don't get too emotional at times," Furyk said, "but I let go there."
Furyk missed a 12-footer for birdie on No. 17, the second playoff hole, with Woods nailing an 18-foot uphill par putt to stay alive.
On the third playoff hole, Woods pulled his drive under a large pine tree but was granted relief because an electronic scoreboard was in his line to the hole. Before he could chip back to the fairway, Furyk knocked his approach 12 feet from the hole.
Again Woods slipped out of trouble, hitting a low runner that checked up 4 feet away. After Furyk barely missed his birdie putt, they both moved on with pars.
This was not what the tournament had in mind when it moved the tee times up several hours to avoid afternoon thunderstorms.
Furyk hit it even closer on the fourth playoff hole than he had the previous time he played the 17th hole. But Woods' 50-foot putt from the front of the green almost went in, curling off at the very edge of the hole.
Once again Furyk's putt to win failed to go in, surprising no one more than Woods and his caddy, Steve Williams.
"On every single one of those Stevie and I would say, 'It's over,' because he's such a great putter," Woods said. "He's got to make one of those. I was just very lucky that he didn't make any of them."
Returning to the 18th hole, Woods hit a drive of more than 350 yards but it was far to the right and near a grove of pine trees and another scoreboard. Furyk hit into a greenside bunker -- not the same one he had already been in twice.
Woods hit a low screamer that came to a stop in the light rough right of the hole, then chipped close and made his par putt. Furyk almost holed another sand shot, hitting to 2 feet to salvage par.
Both were on the front of the green at the sixth playoff hole and both two-putted for par as a thunderstorm strafed the green.
Play resumed after a brief delay, with Woods hitting into the middle of the fairway at 18 and Furyk putting his drive near the trunk of a large pine tree. He had to punch out to the fairway and his third shot barely caught the front of the green.
Woods erased the suspense by hitting a wedge to 2 feet. After Furyk two-putted for his bogey, Woods tapped in his birdie. He held his fists over his shoulders like a heavyweight who had just won an unanimous decision.
"Win or lose, I don't think either one of us is going to feel real bad because of what transpired out there," said Woods, who collected $1 million. After his first win since early June, he also solidified his position as the No. 1 player in the world and the likely tour player of the year.
Darren Clarke was a distant third, three shots out of the playoff after a 69, with Colin Montgomerie fourth and Davis Love III and Stuart Appleby tied for fifth. All were jetting home by the time Woods was presented the Wedgwood cup for the third consecutive year.
Furyk said he was proud of how he played under the pressure, but nonetheless left the course feeling empty.
"I didn't let anyone down today," he said, drawing a line between his showdown with Woods and the stakes in a Ryder Cup. "Today, the only person I let down was myself and I can live with that. I've done it before and I'll do it again."
Woods, 6-1 on tour in playoffs and 7-1 worldwide, said he was energized by what he'd been through.
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