Appreciating Tiger Woods

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2006 PGA ChampionshipMEDINAH, Ill. -- I try and give people the benefit of the doubt, like, Maybe Terrell Owens really is injured and can't practice. Or, Maybe Floyd Landis really does have the testosterone of 10 men. Or, Maybe Jim Furyk really could have such a hot wife if he wasnt a professional golfer.
 
And so I thought, yet again, Saturday night, Maybe somebody really can beat Tiger Woods when hes leading after 54 holes of a major championship.
 
Fool. Fool. Damn fool.
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods captured his third Wanamaker Trophy this week at Medinah.
Hes not going to win them all, Geoff Ogilvy said after the third round. Hes pretty special, but hes not unbeatable.
 
In this situation, Geoff, yes, yes he is. Woods is now a perfect 12-0 when holding at least a share of the 54-hole lead in a major. 12 and 0. The other 69 men who made the cut this week have barely combined to have 12 such opportunities.
 
Some get annoyed when we in the media slather Woods in praise. But, without question, the man deserves it. He deserves all of it. The greatest of the great make extreme difficulty seem simple. Thats what Woods is doing.
 
Woods is now two-thirds of the way to Nicklaus all-time major victories record of 18, arriving at that number in just 10 full seasons on the PGA TOUR ' and three years earlier than Jack.
 
Honestly, Tiger winning 18 appears to be a formality. Assuming that he stays healthy, youve got to give him at least three more green jackets over the next decade, which means he only has to win one more at each of the other three majors to match that mark.
 
I think he can handle that.
 
Tigers not just the most talented player in the world; hes the most complete. They try to 'Tiger proof' courses, but that doesn't work anymore. And as he's displayed at these last two majors, he can adapt his game.
 
He can win at even par; he can win at 24 under. He can win by hitting iron off most every tee; he can win on the longest course in major championship history. He can win in the wind and the rain; he can win in the sun and the shine.
 
He can beat you when youre playing youre best; he can beat you when hes not.
 
Players love to say that they cant worry about what Tiger is doing. I just have to play my own game, they say ' and so many said it once again Saturday evening. But they do have to worry about Tiger, because their game cant beat his game.
 
They should be saying, I need to play my best on Sunday and hope that Tiger gets attacked by a wolverine.
 
All this considered: Is it that improbable to see him doubling his figures, in TOUR victories (51) and major wins (12), over the next 10 years?
 
Not at all, said three-time major winner and Hall of Fame member Nick Price. One-hundred wins, 20-25 majors. Thats entirely possible. How much he wins is (determined by) how long he wants to play.
 
There is one thing that Tiger can do to assure himself of more major victories ' put me on his payroll. For the right price, which is about a ride back to Orlando and a bottle of Jim Beam, Ill keep believing that one day hell lose the lead in the final round of a major championship. Ill keep believing that somebody can beat him in this particular situation.
 
I'll keep being wrong.
 
I got an e-mail this week from a reader who said that Woods doesnt compare to Nicklaus, because Tiger doesnt have Jack's level of competition.
 
I dont like comparing different eras, because I wasnt around in the 60s and was more consumed with Star Wars action figures than golf in the 70s. Is Tiger better than Jack? Couldnt tell you. All I know is that hes the greatest player Ive ever seen, and that the only people who draw a comparison to him in my time are athletes in other sports.
 
That reader was also adamant that Woods should not be considered among the top 5 players of all time.
 
And, hes partially right.
 
One of the new planets that scientists believe they have discovered is the planet Crazy; and on planet Crazy, Tiger Woods is not among the top 5 players of all time.
 
Woods is now second to only Nicklaus in career majors won, passing Walter Hagen.
 
This was his third PGA Championship triumph, and his second at Medinah (1999). Hes now just one U.S. Open win away from completing his third trip around the career Grand Slam, something only Nicklaus has done (no other full-time player on TOUR today has more than three career majors of any kind).
 
By winning this week, and adding to his Open Championship victory a month ago, he captured multiple major titles in the same season for the fourth time in his career (Nicklaus did it five times).
 
And with this victory, he appears to be a lock to win yet another money title (his seventh in 10 full seasons on TOUR) and another Player of the Year award (his eighth).
 
Oh, and he's halfway to completing the 'Tiger Slam' once again, winning four straight majors, which is something he did from the 2000 U.S. Open to the 2001 Masters Tournament. And, in case you're wondering, the way he's playing right now reminds him an awfully lot of the way he was playing back then.
 
'Yeah,' he said with his Tiger Woods grin. 'Pretty close.'
 
Whether or not you're a fan, appreciate what Woods is doing. You may not get a chance over the remainder of your life to see anyone else do it better.
 
Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs
 
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