Tiger Left to Debate Greatness of 2005 Season

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PGA Tour (75x100)ATLANTA, Ga. -- Tiger Woods boarded his plane at midnight for Shanghai, starting a four-week stretch of five events before he can wrap a ribbon around 2005 and decide where it ranks among his 10 seasons on the PGA Tour.
 
With six victories, two majors and all the top awards, some consider it his second-best year. Others favor his '99 season, when he won eight times - including four in a row - and one major.
 
He gave himself more chances on the back nine Sunday in the majors this year, a big plus.
 
Tiger Woods
After having a sub-par season last year, Tiger Woods enjoyed one of his finest seasons on tour in 2005.
Then again, twice he didn't even make it to the weekend.
 
``It's a toss-up,'' Woods said after his runner-up finish to Bart Bryant in the Tour Championship.
 
Considering the state of his game when he left East Lake a year ago, Woods didn't mind this kind of debate.
 
He used to talk about progress in his swing that only he could see, but hardly anyone believed.
 
Now he has the best kind of evidence - a green jacket from the Masters, a silver claret jug from the British Open, two more World Golf Championships, and PGA Tour victories at Doral and Torrey Pines against the strongest fields this side of a major.
 
Woods measures success almost exclusively by the majors, so there was no hesitation when he was asked for a quick assessment of the year shortly after his final putt dropped Sunday afternoon.
 
``A great season,'' he said. ``To make all the changes that we've made the past couple of years now, and to have this type of contention in the major championships again, that's ultimately where I want to be.''
 
Woods has said the reason he revamped his swing was to get even better than his record-setting 2000 season, when he was perceived as unbeatable. Along with winning nine times in 20 starts, including the final three majors, Woods only finished out of the top 10 three times.
 
He is not there yet.
 
Instead of rebuilding his mystique, Woods was a man of mystery this year.
 
He provided the most dramatic shot of the year on the 16th hole at the Masters, when his chip from behind the green did a U-turn at the top of the ridge, trickled to the cup and paused for two full seconds before falling for birdie.
 
It was vintage Woods, until he followed that with two sloppy bogeys to lose his two-shot lead and fall into a playoff with Chris DiMarco. Then came his best two swings of the week - maybe the year - to birdie the last hole.
 
``This year, I think the biggest moment for me was the playoff at Augusta, because I had just played three bad holes in a row, but then I hit my two best golf shots when I absolutely needed it the most,'' Woods said. ``So that was a huge turning point for me this year.''
 
His power was on display all year.
 
Woods averaged 316.1 yards off the tee, up from 301.9 yards last year. But for every tee shot that reached the green on par 4s (Doral, Harding Park), others wound up next to ice machines, under cars or in the trees.
 
This was a shift in philosophy to get back the length advantage he once enjoyed. Woods went to a longer, graphite shaft and a larger club head and swung harder than ever, and it helped more than it hurt.
 
``Do I drive it in the rough? Yes, that happens,'' said Woods, who ranked 188th on tour in driving accuracy at 54.6 percent, a career-low. ``But how many times do I drive it out of play? When you drive it that far, that's a huge advantage. And that's kind of the nature of the game now.''
 
The two biggest surprises were the Byron Nelson Championship and the Funai Classic at Disney. After going seven years without missing a cut, Woods twice had the weekend off.
 
``I was close at a bunch of tournaments,'' he said. ``Unfortunately, I had a couple of MCs this year, which is not normal.''
 
Woods brought a little of everything this year, from two majors to two missed cuts.
 
Expectations are unchanged.
 
He opened the Tour Championship with five birdies on his first eight holes, struggled in the rough on the back nine and shot a 4-under 66, four shots behind Bryant and his course-record 62.
 
The second question after his round: What's happening with your swing?
 
``I just don't get it,'' Haney said as he walked with the masses following Woods in the third round at East Lake. ``After the year he's had, and shooting a 66, and all he hears is, 'Why are you struggling?'''
 
Woods has had stretches of sheer brilliance, winning seven out of 11 majors from 1999 to 2002. He twice in his career has gone 2 1/2 years without winning a major.
 
This year, no one was sure which Tiger was going to show up.
 
That much was clear at the Deutsche Bank Championship, where Woods opened with a 65 without any effort. He never broke 70 the rest of the week and tied for 40th, a sign that his game can desert him quickly.
 
``Hank and I have probably been working on three or four things that we need to try and fix for the fall and next season,'' Woods said. ``So I'm trying to work on them now.''
 
All that matters to Woods is his play in the majors.
 
The Masters was hard work. The British Open was never in doubt. He came within three shots of the other two majors, finishing one shot behind Michael Campbell in the U.S. Open, and two behind Phil Mickelson at the PGA Championship.
 
His year won't end until this four-week stretch - China (HSBC Champions), Japan (Dunlop Phoenix), Hawaii (PGA Grand Slam), the California desert (Skins Game) and his Target World Challenge in southern California.
 
But when he takes time to reflect on his season, chances are he'll come to the same conclusion.
 
``If I can win more events than anyone, and more majors than anyone,'' he said, ``it's going to be a great year.''
 
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