Even Tiger can't be perfect for an entire season
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
By DOUG FERGUSON
The Associated Press
MARANA, Ariz. -- The closest anyone came to a perfect season on the PGA Tour was Ben Hogan.
He won every major championship he played in 1953, and every official tournament he entered except for the Seminole Pro-Am Invitational, where he tied for second. Then again, Hogan only played six times that year because of battered legs from a bus accident.
Tiger Woods will play no more than 17 events on the PGA Tour this year, so a 2-0 start might be a little early for anyone to get excited.
Even so, expectations were as high as the desert sun at noon when Woods left Arizona with yet another victory. It was his fourth in a row on tour since early September, all done in record fashion.
He set a 72-hole scoring record at Cog Hill outside Chicago and won by eight shots at the Tour Championship and the Buick Invitational, both record margins. On Sunday, he smoked Stewart Cink 8 and 7 in the Accenture Match Play Championship, the biggest blowout in the finals in 10 years of a tournament that Woods considers the toughest to win this side of a major.
"I think this certainly is the best stretch I've every played," Woods said.
Strong words -- downright scary -- considering that Woods won nine times, including three straight majors, in 2000 and that he won six consecutive PGA Tour events at the end of 2006, a streak that reached seven until losing in the Match Play the following year.
Winnable events ahead
Woods, who also won in Dubai earlier this month, has never before started a season with three straight victories, and it is hard not to speculate how long he can keep winning given his history at some of the tournaments coming up.
Next is the Arnold Palmer Invitational on March 13 to 16 at Bay Hill, where Woods won four straight times from 2000 to 2003. The week after that is the CA Championship at Doral, where he has won the last three years.
Then the Masters on April 10 to 13.
"He just morphs his game into the courses," Cink said. "So I don't think there's a course that's going to present him with a real obstacle as far as him not being a favorite."
Woods did little to squash the notion of a perfect season when someone asked him if winning them all was within reason.
"That's my intent. That's why you play," Woods said after collecting his 63rd career tour victory and his 15th title in the World Golf Championships. "If you don't believe you can win an event, don't show up."
But it also is his intent to make every putt and hit every shot just how he wants. No one does that, of course. No one wins every tournament. Byron Nelson holds the record with 11 straight victories during a year in which he won 18 times in 30 events. That means he lost 12 times that year.
A perfect season in golf?
"I do find that laughable," Hal Sutton said Monday. "Anybody who knows golf knows that ain't going to happen. You can only own this game for a certain period of time. Even if your name is Tiger Woods, you don't own it forever."
Sutton was among those who beat Woods during a time when the world's No. 1 player looked unbeatable, going head-to-head with him at The Players Championship in 2000 and winning by one shot.
He watched part of the championship match Sunday "until I got bored."
"Tiger is definitely more dominating," Sutton said.
Curtis Strange is among those who played in the prime years of Woods and Jack Nicklaus, and he said it is pointless to compare generations. But he also found speculation of a perfect season to be "a little over the top."
"He is by far and away the best player," Strange said. "We've never had a player this much better than the second-best player. He's unbelieveable, really. But he's not unbeatable. Let's not get ahead of ourselves just because he beat Stewart Cink 8 and 7."
His own bench mark
As usual, the best comparisons are to Woods himself.
Most consider his best golf to be from late 1999 through the 2001 Masters, when he won 16 of 32 times on the PGA Tour and four consecutive majors. Dating to the 2006 British Open, Woods has won 15 of his last 24 events, a 63 percent clip.
"He just has this strong sense of belief in himself that he's just never out of it," Cink said. "He's never going to mess up. He's just always in control. He never loses his composure."
The more he talked, the more Cink made Woods out to be a machine.
"I think maybe we ought to slice him open to see what's inside there," Cink said. "Maybe nuts and bolts."
Not many thought Woods could ever produce better results than 2000, the benchmark of greatness in his era. Woods, however, has been saying all along that his plan was to get better. And with each victory, what seemed impossible is not unthinkable.
Woods knows he was fortunate to win the Match Play. In the first round, he rallied from 3 down with five holes to play against J.B. Holmes by winning four straight holes with three birdies and a 35-foot eagle. In the third round, Aaron Baddeley twice stood over putts inside 12 feet to win the match before Woods prevailed on the 20th hole.
"I played 117 holes this week," Woods said. "I could have easily played 16 and then been home. That's the fickleness of match play."
And such is the fickle nature of golf.
Odds are, Woods won't win them all.
But if he were to even win three of his next six on the PGA Tour, that would give him 18 wins in his last 30 starts, essentially matching Nelson's golden year in 1945.
And even that might not be enough to satisfy him.
"You can always be better," Woods said. "You can always keep improving."
Doug Ferguson covers the PGA Tour for The Associated Press.