Defending Difficult on PGA Tour


2005 Nissan OpenSix years ago, on the cusp of Tiger Woods historic streak at the Bay Hill Invitational, Tim Herron was the defending champion of the Orlando event.
He strolled into the press center as carefree as a man could be. He showed no outward signs of the pressure attached to trying to defend ones title. But in his mind, there was no reason to stress out.
I dont think theres a lot of pressure because I dont think a lot of guys successfully defend, Herron said at the time. It doesnt happen very often and I dont know why. So you really dont have real high expectations, which is good.
Herron didnt defend his title that year; Woods won. Woods won again the following year, and then again in 2002, and yet one more time in 2003.
Winning the same tournament on four consecutive occasions has happened only four times in the history of the PGA Tour. Its as much of an anomaly as there is on the circuit.
But even winning two-in-a-row is a laborious and infrequent achievement.
Over the last 20 years ' and counting only tournaments on the current PGA Tour schedule ' only 35 times has a player successfully defended his title.
That includes Woods three consecutive wins at the WGC-NEC (1999-2001) and at the Memorial (1999-2001), and his four-peat at Bay Hill (2000-03).

Woods is easily the leader in the Department of Defense. Of those 35 successful defenses, Woods has 11 of them to his credit. Phil Mickelson is next in line with three. Corey Pavin and Ernie Els have each done it twice in that parameter.
I dont know why its so hard to defend, said Jim Furyk, who won what is now called the Michelin Championship at Las Vegas back-to-back in 98 and 99. You come in with a lot of confidence because youve played well there before. You like the course because youve had success there. I guess it just proves how hard it is to win out here.
Mike Weir has done it. He kept hold of the Nissan Open trophy he won in 2003 by holding off Shigeki Maruyama a year ago. Now hes back for an opportunity to join Woods as the only men to have won an event three times in a row over the last 20 years.
Woods will get a chance to add to his list of accomplishments in this category the following week, when he vies for his third straight WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
David Toms will also have the opportunity to accomplish the three-peat in May at the FedEx St. Jude.
Els had a chance at the Sony, but finished one back of winner Vijay Singh.
While history is stacked against him, Weir should have some measure of confidence as he returns to Riviera Country Club. In addition to being the two-time defending champion, the tours second all-time winning left-hander won second place at last weeks AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am ' which was the only competitive race run in Mickelson's runaway victory.
'I feel much better about my game, you know, after this week compared to maybe after Phoenix,' Weir said following his final-round 67 in very difficult scoring conditions. 'This round definitely boosted my confidence level going into next week.'
History isnt weighted in Woods favor either, but he, too, should like his chances this week.
Woods won his first stroke-play event on tour in 15 months in his last outing at the Buick Invitational. That, however, was his third career win at Torrey Pines. Hes never won at Riviera ' or anywhere the Nissan Open has been contested.
Woods has played the Nissan ' seven times as a professional ' more than any other tour event without winning. He shot a 7-under 64 ' his lowest score ever in this tournament ' in the final round a year ago to tie for seventh.
Woods grew up in the greater Los Angeles area, and competed in his first tour event at Riviera in 1992. He missed the cut that year, and did the same in 93. Hes since never finished outside of the top 20, while posting a pair of runner-up finishes.
His best chance for victory came in 1998, when he lost to Billy Mayfair in a playoff at Valencia Country Club.
It's frustrating, yes, but it's also one of those things where you have to play good for all four days, and I haven't done that, Woods said after last years final round. In order to win at this track you have to put together four solid rounds of golf, and I haven't done that yet.
The numbers back up Tigers words. Since 1997, when Woods first played this event as a professional, Robert Allenby (2001) is the only winner to have posted a single round over par. During the stretch, Woods has had at least one over-par round in five of his seven starts. The only two exceptions came in 2001, when he had two rounds at even par and tied for 13th; and in 1999, when he shot all four rounds under par, but still came up two strokes shy of Ernie Els.
This is the 79th playing of the tournament that was, for most of its existence, known as the Los Angeles Open.
Its the 43rd time that Riviera has played host. The par-71 venue, which is dubbed Hogans Alley after three-time winner Ben Hogan, who also won the 1948 U.S. Open here, measures 7,246 yards.
There is a strong European contingent on hand. Colin Montgomerie, Darren Clarke, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood are on hand; as is Paul Casey, who is making his first start since withdrawing from the Buick Invitational.
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - Nissan Open