The gap isnt quite as wide as it has been, but when the guys sit around the locker room chatting about the one man theyve got to beat, the answer is still the same as its been the last five years.
Its Tiger Woods.
The elite have gathered at Kapalua in Hawaii this week to begin the 2004 season. Els and Love reiterated it, in case there might have been some doubt. He may have a lot more competition, he may not be as dominant as he was two or three years ago. But Tiger is still the man.
He still brings a lot of - I'm not sure what the word is - but he brings all the credentials to each event, Els told a gathering of the media at the Mercedes Championships. He's the guy You come into a week, you want to try to play the best golf that you can play, but when he's on his game, he's still the guy to beat.
Love was absolutely crucified a couple of years ago for answering reporters question in his straight-forward, honest fashion. He said then that Woods was the best, and that if Woods plays the best he can, he was going to win regardless of what the other players did. Time has proven Love correct ' after all, Woods won an unthinkable 18 times on the PGA Tour in 1999 and 2000 alone. But the gap is narrowing, Davis believes.
Can he be beaten? Yeah - he knows he can be beaten, said Love. He didn't win 20 times last year (roughly the number Woods played.)
You know, there were some big tournaments - five big tournaments - that got away from him, that he really wanted to win. He didn't win some of the bigger tournaments. He won a great percentage of the ones he played in, but he didn't win one, two, three, four, five on his list, and six, The Players Championship.
Tiger, who was always second only to John Daly in the driving distance category, dropped to 11th last year. Though his average of nearly 300 yards a poke represented a personal best, still a lot of players caught ' or passed - him.
But when it comes to hitting every club in his bag, especially when it comes to hitting the long irons, Woods has no equal. He has mastered the 14 clubs better than anybody, believes Els.
Tiger hits a lot of shots that we can't hit, said Ernie. He hits that 2- or 3-iron that goes up high and comes down soft. That's a major bonus for him. And he's a great putter.
But a lot of guys are driving it as long or longer than him. He hasn't got that big of a bonus in him.
Love, for one, doesnt feel as left out as he did two or three years ago. Hes almost 40, but hes finally acquired enough skills to be in Tigers ballpark.
You know, it's nice to know personally that I'm playing well enough to win when I go play, he said. I don't have to sit back and go, Man, I've got to do something or I can't beat the No. 1 player in the world.
But no one is kidding himself. The players know who has the most innate ability of anyone in the world. True, many times he doesnt play the like best in the world. True, many times a Davis Love or an Ernie Els will play better. But a Tiger Woods masterpiece is still better than anyone on the planet ' Love, Els or Vijay Singh included.
His 18 wins in 99 and 2000, his five wins in each of the last three years are undeniable evidence. His five wins last year was ' again ' more than anyone else on the PGA Tour. Until someone does better ' this year, perhaps? - Woods is still the benchmark.
Love reflects, and just shakes his head. We were pointing out, You don't realize how good that is. You don't realize how good his record is, period, until you sit back a little bit and think about it.
His scoring average over the last five, six years is just incredible. (The cuts record) is kind of hard to judge, because we play so many tournaments without cuts.(But) he hasn't missed any cuts in the tournaments with cuts either.
But the scoring average is an incredible record.
Whats the scoring average? The top four adjusted marks in tour history belong to Woods, beginning with a remarkable 68.17 average in 2000 and going through his 68.41 last year.
He does it so often now that it has become commonplace. Els, Love et al are gaining ground, yes. But as 2004 begins, there is still a clear-cut No. 1.
The stuff he's done is incredible, simply says Love.
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