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It's tough to capture Tiger

Words fail when Woods succeeds

His fifth consecutive PGA Tour victory - sealed with birdie on the 72d hole at the Bay Hill Club Sunday - was a real scream for Tiger Woods. His fifth consecutive PGA Tour victory - sealed with birdie on the 72d hole at the Bay Hill Club Sunday - was a real scream for Tiger Woods. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Jim McCabe
Globe Staff / March 18, 2008

MIAMI - Tropical winds set off the only commotion yesterday at the Doral Golf Resort & Spa, with gusts gently bending palm trees to and fro, and flagsticks fluttering defenselessly.

Certainly, it was a day of serenity, and even though it was the official start to an $8 million World Golf Championship spectacle called the CA Championship, the truth is that pretty much only those in need of becoming familiar with this famed golf course were aboard for a practice day. Men like Chapchai Nirat and Shiv Shankar Prasad Chowrasia, Masters champs both of them - though they won the Vietnam Masters and Indian Masters, respectively - and James Kingston of South Africa, your Order of Merit leader for the Sunshine Tour.

It was a day for them to acclimate themselves on a rare visit to American soil and prep for what to them is a unique experience: a golf tournament with millions of dollars up for grabs.

For the bulk of the PGA Tour, whose members casually take on these rich affairs on a weekly basis, it was a day to rest, to sit back and exhale and savor the latest entry in Tiger Woods's endless list of magic tricks. The incomparable one had won again Sunday, but it wasn't so much what he did as how he did it - with a flair for the dramatic that has become almost impossible to explain, though naturally, reporters asked players to do just that.

Bart Bryant tried his best.

"I don't think people in general - and maybe even the average golf fan - can appreciate exactly what Tiger is doing. I mean, they appreciate it, but I just don't think they understand the magnitude of what he's accomplishing right now," said Bryant, moments after becoming the 58th player to finish second to Woods in a PGA Tour tournament.

The disappointment of the loss was still a heavy load, for Bryant had completed his fourth consecutive sub-70 trip around a demanding Bay Hill Club, his 3-under-par 67 unable to match Woods's 66. Thus did the legend continue to mount, thanks to a birdie putt of around 25 feet on his very last stroke of the tournament.

Talk about seizing the moment, which is about all we seem to be speaking of when the story line involves Woods, now with five straight wins on the PGA Tour.

"What Tiger is doing and when he goes on these streaks, it's great for the game of golf," said Bryant. "We love to see it. We want to beat him because everybody wants to win, but when Tiger is playing good, it's good for golf."

Bryant shook his head, because there seems to be nothing left to say about a legend that is in its 13th year on the PGA Tour. Instead of words, perhaps numbers should be used to tell the story, because they are the foundation on which the Woods career is built.

A player has won at least five straight events just five times in PGA Tour history - and Woods owns three of those streaks (seven in 2006-07; six in 1999-2000). Byron Nelson holds the record of 11, set in 1945, while Ben Hogan had six straight in 1948.

For years, PGA Tour observers have been quick to suggest that Woods is giving us an indication of what it was like to witness the legendary Babe Ruth. Indeed, their dominating ways are similar. Consider that Woods now has 64 PGA Tour wins, which equals the combined output of perhaps the two next-best players of his generation, Phil Mickelson (33) and Vijay Singh (31). In 1921, Ruth had 59 home runs, while the next two closest sluggers, Bob Meusel and Ken Williams, combined for 48.

With $3,751,717 in prize money for four worldwide events this year, Woods has made more than what Nos. 2 (Mickelson) and 3 (K.J. Choi) have earned ($3,622,035) in 12 combined tournaments.

With 24 wins in his last 55 starts, a winning clip of .436 that defies logic, Woods has established a blistering pace that even the game's most celebrated champion, Jack Nicklaus, never imagined. Woods has needed just 219 tournaments as a pro to record 64 wins; in his first 219 tournaments as a pro, Nicklaus had 39 wins.

Having recorded his 64th win early in his 13th season on the PGA Tour, Woods is well ahead of the pace set by the sport's leading winner, Sam Snead, who after 13 full seasons owned just 43 wins.

"What he's doing right now, I mean, you can't even hardly fathom it," said Bryant. "You can't explain it. It's just incredible. Just what he did [Sunday] is evidence of this weird zone he's in - and he's been in it his whole life I don't know how to explain it."

No one does. Whereas there is still speculation as to whether Woods can win all four major championships this year and thus achieve the Grand Slam, voices are starting to rise above whisper level to ask if the impossible is possible: Can he win every tournament in which he plays, with his lineup expected to include roughly 16 starts?

"You keep going forward. Every time you tee it up, you're ready to go," said Woods, moments after he had tied Hogan for third place on the career victory list. He trails only Nicklaus and Snead, but the spotlight is focused squarely on the current streak, which is where some more impressive numbers enter the equation.

Woods will arrive for this week's CA Championship with positive vibes, for he's won each of the past three years at Doral's heralded Blue Monster. If he were to do so again and stretch his current Tour streak to six, his bid for No. 7 would be brought to Augusta National for the Masters, where he has triumphed four times in 11 tries as a professional.

There would then be tournaments at Quail Hollow in Charlotte (Wachovia, May 1-4) and TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. (The Players Championship May 8-11), venues at which he is a combined 2 for 14, so if you want to suggest it could be his toughest back-to-back challenge of the year, feel free.

Woods will not engage himself in such speculative talk. He's focused on the job at hand, which is winning one tournament at a time, and if you think he was rattled by the pressure-packed situation he found himself in Sunday, staring down a 25-foot putt to win, think again.

"It feels good. It really does," he said. "It's why you work all those tireless hours, to be in that position right there to fail or succeed."

It's the latter that he has obviously mastered.

Jim McCabe can be reached at jmccabe@globe.com.

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