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Tiger Puts His Imprint on Greatness

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The words Shock and Awe were mentioned, and for a moment you assumed the subject was Tiger Woods. He shocked the golfing world by just showing up to play Sunday. And the awe well, what else can you possibly say about the way that gentleman played at Bay Hill Sunday?
 
It was mind-boggling watching the way he played, said Stewart Cink. But its been mind-boggling for several years now.
 
Woods is unbelievable. Slowly but surely he's making inroads, convincing even the oldtimers that no one was better - not Bobby Jones, not Ben Hogan or Jack Nicklaus. The Bay Hill win was noteworthy for several reasons, all of them suggesting that this guy is the best who ever took a swipe at a golf ball with a niblick.
 
He won Bay Hill for the fourth consecutive time, and thats only the third time in history that a tournament has been won four times in succession. The other two times were back in the 20s when competition was nowhere near what it is now. He won this one by 11 shots, and thats the best ever for this tournament ' breaking the record of nine set by Fred Couples back in 1992. And it was a difficult course - the second-place score of 280 was the third highest runner-up finish in the 25 years the tournament has been played at Bay Hill.
 
But to put it all in perspective, you need only take a look at those images on Sundays telecast. There was a grimacing Woods, surviving 18 holes of malady, and shooting a 68 to do it. Two 67s were the only better scores posted on the soggy course.
 
It used to be that many would stroke their chins thoughtfully and say, Sure, hes been good up to this point. But lets see how he stands the test of time. I, admittedly, was one of those.
 
Well, 37 wins in only eight seasons ' two of those seasons only a part of the whole ' say the time has come to junk that old reasoning. He played in only eight events in 96 and four in 2003, so those two combined are only half a season. So hes won 37 times in only 6 seasons. That doesnt even account for his six wins on other tours. Hey - hes stood the test of time.
 
The excuse also is that, unlike Nicklaus, he doesnt have an Arnold Palmer, a Lee Trevino, a Johnny Miller, a Tom Watson to horn in on his victories. Well, maybe if it werent for Woods, then Ernie Els, Colin Montgomerie, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh or David Duval would have equaled what Trevino, Miller or Watson did.
 
Hes missed one cut ' back in 97 when he missed at the Canadian Open by a stroke. The last six years, hes been perfect and the string has now reached 100 tournaments. The all-time record is 113, which Tiger would surpass this year. Nicklaus is second with 105.
 
Makes you want to go back and check the 97 Canadian. That was a couple of years before he revamped his swing. He shot 70 in the opening round but skied to 76 in the second. At the time no one thought much of it. But people who were there that Friday might be able to say one day that they were there when Tiger missed the only cut of his career.
 
We know already that he is long and straight. We know already that he has a marvelous short game. And in case we didnt know, one of the world's great putters is there to remind us that, yeah, the guy can roll it.
 
Thats maybe the most overlooked (thing), and I dont think its overrated, said Brad Faxon. Hes a great putter. He makes great putts all the time.
 
Hes entering that rarified air reserved for the greatest ever to play the game. Hes only 27 years old, but his 37 wins on the PGA Tour puts him within two of Gene Sarazen and Tom Watson. Ahead of him are only 10 fellows - Sam Snead has 82, Nicklaus 73, Hogan 64, Palmer 62, Byron Nelson 52, Billy Casper 51, Walter Hagen 44, Cary Middlecoff 40, in addition to Sarazen and Watson
 
Of course, no one has ever won this often before he was 30. Woods 37 leads Nicklaus by seven ' Jack had 30 by the time he turned 30. Snead had 10 fewer ' 27 ' by the time he reached 30. Woods just turned 27 at the end of 2002, so he has the better part of two years to put lots more wins on the board. He might well have 50 by the time he reaches 30 years of age.
 
After the age of 29, Snead won 57 times. Nicklaus won 43 times. Palmer won 42 times while in his 30s alone. Snead won 17 times after he was 40 years of age. Most players reach their peak in the 10 years between 30 and 40 ' Tiger has two more years to go before he reaches his best years.
 
Who wouldnt love to watch that swing? said Faxon. As hard as he hits it, he never looks like hes out of control. He swings beautifully. I dont know ' its inspiring to me.
 
Some people, of course, still maintain that Woods isnt the best to play the game. In a way, they are correct - the game has changed so dramatically. The game that Old Tom Morris played, that Hagen and Jones played, that Hogan and even Palmer and Nicklaus played, is strikingly different from the game that Woods plays.
 
But if you accept that a game played with the same implements is the same sport, then you cannot possibly disagree that this young man is the greatest in history. Hey, he was in so much pain that he almost cried throughout last season, yet he still won five times. This year he feels fine, and all he has done is win three times in four tries. The fourth time, at LA, he finished in a tie for fifth.
 
We are living in a very special time. After Woods hangs em up, the world may wait another 200 years before another one comes along. Enjoy it while its happening ' we will all be in the ground long before it happens again.
 
I look at the way he just gathers himself ' I think hes got his game pretty simple right now, Faxon says. He look like hes not trying very hard. He sees his shot, he gets over it. Hes very purposeful over the ball. His swing is great. Obviously, he can hit it far and he putts well.