Comparisons to 2000 Season Linger for Tiger

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2006 Target World Challenge pres. by CountrywideTHOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- No matter how often he won, by however many shots, no matter how wide the gap grew between Tiger Woods and the rest of the world, he could never escape comparisons to 2000.
 
Some thought such a year could never be matched.
 
Woods won the last three majors, including record-setting wins at Pebble Beach and St. Andrews, to complete the career Grand Slam at age 24. He won nine times and was in the top five at 17 of his 20 tournaments. He set or tied 27 records on the PGA Tour.
 
By the numbers, it still stands as his greatest season.
 
As player, most of his peers believe Woods has become even better.
 
'The reason people still talk about 2000 is because he won the U.S. Open by 15 and the British Open by eight,' caddie Steve Williams said. 'Those are the two biggest tournaments, and he won by 23 shots. So the public's perception of his year is based on two weeks. That will stand in our memories forever. That's why we're still talking about it.'
 
And now?
 
'No doubt, this is the best he's ever played,' Williams said. 'He's in more control of his shots. I wouldn't even compare the years because they're so vastly different -- different in the way he plays, the way he manages his game, his course strategy. He's more equipped now.'
 
Woods, ending a 10-week break this week at the Target World Challenge, only talks about 2000 in context.
 
He collected his ninth PGA Tour player of the year award on Tuesday after winning seven times, including his 13th career major. The numbers were slightly down from the year before, even though Woods looked to be more in control of his game.
 
He thought he had a better year, but when drawing comparisons, he focused on the ones that got away.
 
Woods finished two shots behind at the Masters, haunted by bogey-bogey finishes in the first and third rounds. He wound up one shot behind at the U.S. Open, and still talks about a third round in which he hit 17 greens at Oakmont and could only squeeze a 69 out of it.
 
Then there was the Deutsche Bank Championship outside Boston, where he had five three-putts and took nine more putts than Phil Mickelson in the final round alone, and finished two shots behind.
 
'I was just a few shots away from doing what I did in 2000,' he said. 'If I get those done, people would probably be comparing it to 2000, if not better.'
 
It goes beyond 2007.
 
Two years ago, Woods won the Masters and British Open, was second at the U.S. Open and tied for fourth at the PGA Championship, finishing a combined four shots out of the lead in the two he didn't win.
 
'I've been pretty close the last few years of eclipsing what I did in 2000,' he said.
 
For those around him, they see far more control -- the flight of his ball, the management of his game, and his life.
 
It has taken Woods close to a year to get over the death of his father in May 2006, and even now he talks about feelings of guilt about not spending as much time with Earl Woods.
 
'You always feel this sense of you didn't really capture each and every day with him,' Woods said.
 
His daughter, Sam, was born the day after the U.S. Open. His wife and daughter made a surprise visit to Southern Hills on the final day, when Woods captured his 13th career major at the PGA Championship. For those who wondered how fatherhood would change him as the most cut-throat player in golf, Woods smiled.
 
'I think the end of the year probably demonstrated that pretty good,' he said, referring to victories in four of his last five events.
 
Even more daunting is the comfort he feels on the golf course.
 
For swing coach Hank Haney, the pivotal moment came Saturday morning at Oakmont on the first tee, a hole that looked extremely tight to Woods. He had planned to hit iron, but a shift in wind demanded driver, and Woods piped it.
 
That was a sign of confidence that has only grown.
 
'The best thing that Tiger does is he makes an honest assessment where he is,' Haney said Wednesday. 'He can take a step back and make an honest assessment of how to get better. And it's always accurate.'
 
So how much better can he get?
 
Woods is winning at nearly a 50 percent clip, an astounding rate in this era. He has won 15 times in 31 starts on the PGA Tour the last two years, and he has won as many times worldwide as the next five players behind him in the world ranking combined.
 
He stopped going to the practice range after a round at the British Open, mentally rehearsing his swing and learning to trust it.
 
'This is just the tip of the iceberg of where he can be mentally and confidence-wise with his swing,' Haney said. 'You're just starting to see it. We've seen it in practice, and now you start to see it on the golf course. It's a slow progression.'
 
About the only thing missing is the spectacular shot. His father once said that Woods always hits at least one shot that fans will talk about for years. Now, it's the subtle appreciation of flawless execution.
 
His 2000 season was best remembered for the 6-iron he hit out of the bunker, over the water and right at the pin to win the Canadian Open, and the 7-iron he gouged out of the rough to reach the par-5 sixth green at Pebble Beach.
 
Two years ago, it was his U-turn chip-in at the Masters. Last year, it was the 4-iron he holed from the fairway at Hoylake.
 
Was there one memorable shot this year?
 
Not really, except for the 15-foot putt that lipped out and denied him a 62 in a major, or breaking his 4-iron against the tree on the 11th hole at the Masters.
 
Meanwhile, the gap is no different than it was in 2000, if not greater.
 
'The chasing pack is getting better,' Colin Montgomerie said. 'But the problem is, so is he. I always feels his best time was in 2000, and I think we're getting back to that level again. I think he's almost a better putter. But as a swing, he's very close. Very close.'
 
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