There were moments when it wasn't but in the end it emphatically was. A cakewalk.

Colin Montgomerie and Jose Maria Olazabal came up with a challenge to Tiger Woods in the Open Championship on the Old Course yesterday, but only in theory.

In fact, Woods dismissed his field. He completed his second consecutive Open victory at the Home of Golf with a final round of 70 to finish 14-under-par.

He had a winning margin of five strokes over a somewhat rejuvenated Montgomerie.

This did not match his mathematical superiority of 2000, when he won by eight, but his certainty was almost as profound.

His mere presence at the head of the field puts stress on his rivals and while Montgomerie made an attack on him early on, the Scot lost three shots over the last eight holes.

Montgomerie's second place, with an aggregate of 279, was his best in this tournament and he won £430,000 to Woods' £720,000. Fred Couples and Olazabal shared third place on 280 and among the six players on 281 were Sergio Garcia and Bernhard Langer on behalf of Europe.

Nick Faldo called back the years with a 69 that took him to six-under on 282.

"A dream come true," said Woods, who was winning his tenth major championship.

"To do this at St Andrews is as good as it gets."

The leaderboard at the start, he said, suggested that anything might happen.

"But I hit the ball so well," he said, "put it where I wanted it. And I played very well coming in."

Montgomerie, who had endured three lean years, said: "I now feel I'm back where I belong; it's nice to be back in a theatre like this.

"It's never a disgrace to lose to the best player of this generation. I was aiming for a total of 15-under but the pins were too difficult."

There were untypical suggestions of vulnerability when Woods played the seventh and the eighth holes.

He nearly holed his second shot to the first of them, the ball scraping the cup on the spin and the next was almost a hole in one. But he had putts for birdies, from 6ft and 5ft and he missed them both.

This is the length from which Tiger hardly ever misses so the tension was obviously getting to him.

In his fury he drove the 330-yard ninth, the hole that Montgomerie had just birdied to get to within a shot of Woods' lead. Two putts and his lead was two again.

Out in 34 to Montgomerie's 33.

Then Woods did something daft. He took on the tenth. He took on the bunkers and not only did he not make the carry, he finished right up by the face of the last of the string.

It was the sort of shot that a man might attempt when chasing the lead. Not when he has a lead as slender as it was at this point.

He had to come out sideways, failed to save his par and it was an obvious relief for him when Montgomerie could not get up and down at the 11th.

Woods was smiling when he left the tenth green but any amusement, it was suspected, must have been contrived. In effect, he had let three shots go in the last four holes. But perhaps he could sense the pressure the chasers were operating under.

For a time Montgomerie, revelling in the occasion and the support he was getting, had appeared to be the stronger golfer. But as Woods was re-collecting himself with a birdie on the 12th, the Scot was missing an important putt on the 13th.

There were now four shots in it, the toiling Olazabal dropping back with a bogey at the 12th.

"They think it's all over . . . it is now," was the clich>d slogan that came to mind.

Olazabal was virtually out of the race after his bogey on the 13th and it was now what everybody said it was on Friday: a battle for second place.

For Woods was into embellishment. He knocked in a six-footer to go five ahead on the 14th and the question was: could he equal - or pass - the eightshot winning margin that he posted in 2000? The question was asked in the negative sense for the others were going backwards.

Montgomerie, making a bogey at the 16th, was back to where he started and Olazabal was struggling to tie Couples for third place, a feat he eventually achieved with a birdie at the last.

Montgomerie held his game together, finishing with three pars and striding up the 18th to the concerted cheers of his compatriots and he watched while Woods did something else that was strange.

He dropped a shot at the 17th but still had a five- shot lead when he came to the 18th - which he played with an iron.

His second shot dropped back into the the Valley but, watched by his Mum and his Missus, he putted up to 3ft, knocked in the putt and strode away towards the next phase in his destiny.

At this point in the story, the scribes turned up for Woods's post-Open speech. And the interview room was so crowded that dozens, including this column, couldn't get near. The R&A will have to hire the Glasgow Empire, or Hampden Park, if he ever wins in Scotland again.

But the gist was that he was mighty proud and that the changes he had made in his swing were taking his game forward. Could he make it three major championships in a season in the US PGA? Silly question.

Couples equalled his best finish, tied third at Birkdale in 1991. He had a last-round 68 and said that he'd had a great day, although . . ."it could have been a heck of a lot better."

He had lipped out on the third, an eagle putt had spun out on the ninth and he had hit a bad putt to miss his chance on the 12th. But Fred doesn't complain.

"It's so much fun to play St Andrews. It's a unique place," he said. "It's a great place for me to come to play golf."

Graeme McDowell did Ireland proud with a closing 67. Pity about the 74 the day before. He had come home in 31 and said that he hadn't

realised it. He birdied three holes in succession from the 12th and had taken threes on the 16th and the 18th.

"It was just another day when I played solidly and made some putts," he said, somewhat inadequately. How he rued the eight that he took on the 17th on Saturday.

"I like this course," he said "and I've been looking forward to this week for months. I'm waiting for the week when I can string four rounds together and it's going to happen soon."

John Daly's affection for the Open was not diminished by his 73 which dropped him to five-under. He had missed a lot of putts because he claimed the greens were crusty. "The ball was jumping off the putter," he said.

"I've seen pins this week that I've never dreamed of seeing. It used to be six easy, six medium and six hard. Now there are 18 hard pins every day."

One of the flops of the tournament was Luke Donald, who had promised so much on the first day. Despite a 70 yesterday, he could only finish level-par.

"Extremely disappointing," he said. "I'll have to look to see what the problem is when it comes to majors. I keep throwing in big numbers.

"Perhaps I played too much before the Open, perhaps I was a little tired. But I can't use that as an excuse. I just wasn't very strong, mentally."

Finally, the cock-up award must surely go to K J Choi, for farcical content and for the damage it caused to his pay cheque.

Yesterday, the Korean took nine at the 17th. He hit his second shot on to the road, chipped three times before he got his ball up over the bank and he ended up in the notorious greenside bunker.

From which he had to come out sideways. It was to his credit that he completed the round in 73 but it will haunt him for years: how he went from six-under-par to oneunder on a single hole.