Tiger Starting to Stir Memories of 2000

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PGA Tour (75x100)Tiger Woods was on the back end of the practice range at Torrey Pines a few years ago, trying to find a cure for a swing he could no longer trust, when someone asked him if he could ever repeat the year he had in 2000.
 
'I think I can play that good again,' Woods said.
 
'You better,' Steve Williams barked as he stood behind him and studied his swing. 'I'm building two race cars.'
 
The small group erupted in laughter, mostly at the thought of Woods' caddie needing him to play his best golf to support a racing career in New Zealand. But there was skepticism in those smiles, for no one really thought there would ever be another year like that.
 
Tiger in 2000 was the Yankees in '27, the Lakers in '72.
 
Woods captured three straight majors among his nine PGA Tour victories, including the U.S. Open by 15 shots and the British Open by eight shots, the latter giving him the career Grand Slam at age 24. He finished under par in all 20 tournaments he played, and Woods went his final 47 rounds that year at par or better.
 
It remains the benchmark.
 
But it no longer seems out of reach.
 
Woods' victory on Monday in the Deutsche Bank Championship was not only his fifth straight -- his longest winning streak in a single season -- it was his seventh PGA Tour title in only 14 starts this year, a success rate that simply is not supposed to happen in this game.
 
He is 86-under par during this streak, and only two tournaments were remotely in doubt. Stewart Cink missed an 8-foot par putt that would have won at Firestone, and Vijay Singh lost a three-shot lead going into the last day at the TPC of Boston.
 
Singh was particularly helpless. Only four players had a better score than his 68 in the final round, but he couldn't stop Woods from playing the first seven holes in 6-under par -- including two eagle putts of 10 feet. Woods, who played his final 47 holes at the Deutsche Bank without a bogey, missed only three greens in the final round on his way to a 63.
 
'Normally it's good,' Singh said of his final round. 'Today it wasn't.'
 
Woods left Boston for a week of rest before going back to work to figure out how he can get better, which might explain more than anything else why he is so hard to beat.
 
Darkness finally chased him off the practice range two weeks ago at Firestone after the first round, and swing coach Hank Haney reported the next day that they had made some significant strides.
 
Significant strides? This was five days after Woods won the PGA Championship for his 12th career major and third straight victory.
 
Haney smiled.
 
'Three straight wins and he's the last guy on the range,' Haney said. 'I like that.'
 
Woods said it's not about hitting perfect shots and making every putt. He mentioned good bounces and a little luck, although both of those were hard to find at the TPC of Boston. It looked more like flawless execution, and Woods eventually acknowledged that.
 
'That's pretty exciting for me to go out there and play with this type of confidence, with my mechanics becoming more and more sound,' he said.
 
Comparisons to 2000 are inevitable, especially if Woods wins two more PGA Tour events to bring his victory total this year to nine. Still remaining are the American Express Championship outside London at the end of the month and the Tour Championship at East Lake at the end of the season. There's a good chance Woods will skip Disney, where he missed the cut a year ago.
 
Even now, Woods is hesitant to embrace comparisons with 2000.
 
It was clear from his answer that his memories are the margins of victory -- 15 shots at Pebble Beach, eight shots at St. Andrews, 11 shots when he won at Firestone in the dark and five shots at the Memorial.
 
Woods won nine times by 46 shots in 2000. His seven victories in 2006 are by a combined 13 shots.
 
'If you're looking for blowout wins to compare the two, there's only a couple of tournaments that you can possibly blow out anybody,' he said. 'One would be the U.S. Open, because if you play great rounds of golf, it's hard for the other guys to do the same. I think that's what people are always looking to compare 2000 with now -- 'Yeah, he's winning, but he's not winning by as big of margins.'
 
'But,' Woods added with a smile, 'I'm still getting Ws.'
 
And that's why the comparisons now are no longer laughable.
 
One could argue that Woods caught everyone napping in 2000.
 
His peers had not seen anyone dominate like that -- they were all born after Ben Hogan's big year in 1953 -- and it was intimidating.
 
And don't forget, Woods had switched to Nike's three-piece golf ball in May 2000 and was the biggest hitter in golf. Titleist came out with its Pro V1 that fall, and equipment since then has helped level the field. Woods is still long, but he no longer has such a big advantage.
 
The competition is deeper and better than it was. Phil Mickelson has won three majors in the last three years, Singh won nine times in 2004, Retief Goosen has added a pair of U.S. Open titles.
 
And yet Woods is still winning at an alarming rate.
 
'Everybody has been hitting the ball longer, everyone is stronger,' Woods said. 'It's become that much more difficult to win a golf tournament. So I've kept up the pace. I've pushed myself to do the same.'
 
That's one thing that hasn't changed from 2000. He's still pushing.