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Tiger Still Burning Bright

If you listed Tiger Woods' accomplishments this past season and attached them to anyone elses name ' save Annika Sorenstam ' statues would be bronzed, parades would be marched and parity at the top would be declared.
Perhaps thats an exaggeration, but its a superfluous one, because those numbers ' the wins, the money, the records ' do belong to Woods.
The thing is, these numbers are expected. Woods created such a ridiculous standard after his 2000 campaign that what he has achieved the two seasons since isnt fully appreciated.
Woods improved upon his PGA Tour performance from a year ago. His win total was the same this season as it was in 2001 ' five (six worldwide). The cash increased by over a million dollars ' from $5.7 million to $6.9 million. Top-5 finishes were up ' from eight to 11. In 2001 he once went five starts without a top 10; this year that streak never stretched to two tournaments.
Of course, all this pales in comparison to 2000, when he won nine times on the PGA Tour, made over $9 million, and only three times finished outside of the top 5.
He captured three consecutive major championships that season, and eventually won the 2001 Masters Tournament to complete the sequential Grand Slam.
This year he made a passionate run at the calendar version.
He donned his second straight green jacket, and then hoisted his second career U.S. Open trophy, making him the first man since Jack Nicklaus 30 years before to win the first two legs of the Slam.
There would be no drinking from the Claret Jug, however. For one of the few times in his charmed professional life, Tiger got bullied. Mother Nature furiously flapped her wings, exhaled a bitter breath, and basically showed no respect to the greatest player in the world.
It was cold, wet and windy, but Woods was almost as bad. His poor play nearly matched the brutal elements and led to a career-worst 81.
'The Slam' was slammed; the season continued.
He tallied wins at the Buick Open the week before the PGA Championship and the World Golf Championships-American Express Championship the week before the Ryder Cup.
Overall, the year presented heights and depths ' the Ryder Cup lay somewhere in the trough.
Even before Tiger ever set foot in Sutton Coldfield, England, his desire to compete in the matches came into question.
Woods said - rather casually - that he was rather win the $1 million first-place prize at the Amex than help his team to victory at The Belfry.
He got his wish.
Fresh off victory in Ireland, Woods could only muster a 2-2-1 record at the Ryder Cup ' bringing his career mark to 5-8-2.
As a team, the U.S. lost the Cup. As an individual, Woods lost a bit of face in the press.
Aside from the negative criticism he received from his million-dollar remark, Tiger was blasted by, in particular, the British media for adhering to his normal early-morning practice schedule ' with his captains permission ' the day before the start of competition.
There were other times when Woods was better off skipping the morning paper.
The three-time Masters champion was questioned ad nauseam about whether or not Augusta National should admit female members. Woods stated his opinion, saying over and over again that he would like to see such an addition, but it wasnt his call.
That was not a sufficient answer for many, who wanted the worlds most affluent golfer to take a more concrete, one-sided stance.
Still, 2002 was continued success on the course for the 27-year-old.
He won his fourth straight Player of the Year award, his fourth straight money title and his fourth straight scoring title.
He also hit what he considered to be the greatest shot in his life: a 212-yard bunker bomb from a downhill lie, with a shortened stance, facing a left-to-right 30 mph wind, over a tree ' he hit a 3-iron to 12 feet ' and made the putt.
His year seemed to be closing on a high note as well. He played one of the greatest rounds of his life ' a flawless 61 ' in winning the PGA Grand Slam of Golf. However, he finished fourth out of four in the Skins Game, and came up short in his repeat bid at his own Target World Challenge. He then hobbled home for the holidays with arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.
Because of rehabilitation, Tiger will have to skip the first month or so of the 2003 campaign, but that extensive rest ' his longest inactive period since turning pro ' may be just what he needs after an exhausting 2002.
Oh yeah, he also dates a Swedish bikini model.