It was last year, of course, when he did the same thing. The sl- , er, winless period hadnt lasted quite as long ' his final win was the Bell Canadian in 2000, the final one in 2001 two weeks earlier at the WGC ' NEC Championship. It bothers Tiger to hear the word slump in concert with his string of performances, and indeed with anyone else this winless skein would be merely a momentary lapse. However, we are talking about a player here whom we believe will be the greatest in history, and these winless skeins are a bit more than business-as-usual. Tiger himself may not buy into the greatest thing, but his father certainly does. So while Tiger is permitted to get angry about the slump talk, many others who have professed him potentially the greatest ever certainly cannot.
Look at what hes done, though. Win No. 30 came a full four years earlier than anyone else had ever done it. There is no proof, of course, but the suspicion is that Woods did it against the most skillful opposition in history. Certainly there are more skilled opponents than there has ever been. At this point in his career, Woods has outshone everybody who has ever played the game.
Hes 26 years old now, and thats right on the cusp of his prime years. If history is an indicator, the best years are between now and 35-36, a 10-year stretch that everyone who has gone before him has hit their prime. It will be interesting to see if he follows the trend ' though it will be hard to do better than nine wins in 2000 or eight wins in 1999.
Tiger was raised in Southern California, but the last couple of years he has shown a decided preference for the grasses and conditions of the East and Midwest. This year the soliloquy might have reached its peak when he couldnt help but let slip concerns about the turf on the West Coast. His putting statistics were poor on the Western swing, but lo and behold, just like he said, he got on Bermuda and he started making serious inroads. Warm weather is here and he looks like its time to get rolling.
You know, he said, I thoroughly enjoy it. I thoroughly enjoy coming back down here to Florida and playing. This is where I live now.
Last year, Woods used his Bay Hill victory to win four in a row. The Players is this week, his second win in succession last year. He then won the Masters and The Memorial for his four straight wins.
As Ive gone on throughout the year, I have gained a greater appreciation for four in a row, he said. It is a pretty neat accomplishment, and to be able to say that Ive done it, Im very proud of that.
Tiger plays a dangerous game with his constant tinkering of the swing, though. Refer to Ian Baker-Finch, Chip Beck and a wide assortment of others who won big tournaments, tweaked the swing to get a little more distance or accuracy, and the whole thing blew up in their face. Woods last swing change, though, paid huge dividends ' he fashioned it in mid-1999 and has been near-unstoppable since.
Tiger says, however, that those who question yet more swing tweaks just dont understand golf.
The game of golf ' if you understand the game of golf ' you never really have it, Woods says. It just ebbs and flows. And you are always working on something. I dont care how good you hit it one day ' shoot, like I shot 59, I still hit a couple of bad shots, you still go out and work on those things.
The game of golf is very unique that way. You always try to get a little bit better.
He insists hes working on the same things he has been since 1997. If so, eight wins in 99 and nine if 2000 seem to suggest he is already there. He says no he isnt, and heaven forbid what would happen if he ever got it exactly right. He plays about 20 tournaments a year, and obviously he wants to win 20. Yes, Tiger is being Tiger again.