2005: Perspective - After seven years, Woods slams the trunk

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Irving, Texas

In case you’re wondering, Tiger Woods somehow did not play in the Saturday Series Pro-Am here. Apparently he didn’t need the extra cash or competition.

The weekly Saturday deal, of course, is for 15 or so professionals who miss the cut in the main PGA Tour event and want to pick up some spending money. And, as you may have heard on the news, Woods missed the 36-hole cut at the EDS Byron Nelson Championship.

His first missed cut in seven years caused a major tremor, maybe something like a 7.5 on golf’s Richter Scale. Woods has weekends off about as often as does Dick Vitale’s television set in winter. Seven years without missing a cut? I can’t remember who I was seven years ago.

While Woods was making bogey on the last hole and missing the cut by one stroke, former PGA Tour player Eric Booker and a few current professionals watched on television nearby. Booker runs the Saturday Series and was recruiting players who missed the Nelson cut on Friday.

It follows that, in chorus, a couple of playful pros told Booker they’d pay him $100 if he would have enough guts to go up and ask Woods to play Saturday. One man’s hiccup is another’s gallows humor.

“If he wasn’t in a rush,” Booker said later, “I would have asked him in a joking way.”

As it happened, Woods returned to Florida and was on the practice range Saturday at Isleworth, working on his swing. That is about as surprising as sunrise. The lab rat goes back to the lab, the perfectionist never stops tinkering.

“There wasn’t any doubt what he’d do on Saturday,” said Hank Haney, Woods’ swing adviser.

No doubt, that is, once Woods’ record streak of consecutive PGA Tour starts in the money ended at a remarkable 142. That run of high-level consistency dates to the 1998 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, from which he withdrew after two rounds in wet February instead of returning for a final round in, of all months, August.

“It’s been a nice little . . . a nice, what, how many years, seven years?” Woods said. “That’s not too bad.”

That would be like calling Francisco de Goya’s “Countess of Carpio” just a decent piece of art.

Woods’ streak consists of 111 cuts made and 31 no-cut events (in which he had 26 top-10 finishes). The Tour says next best are Byron Nelson’s 113, which reportedly included about 30 percent no-cut events, and Jack Nicklaus’ 105. Sports Illustrated reported in 2003 that Ben Hogan should hold the record at 177 (1939-50), but the Tour doesn’t recognize that.

Hogan aside, Woods’ accomplishment rates among the most unbeatable individual streaks in sports history. Not many performance-based feats – if any – top it, particularly since World War II.

Baseball has Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak and, of course, the Chicago Cubs’ 96 years – and counting – without winning a World Series. Tennis has Martina Navratilova’s six consecutive Wimbledon singles titles. Hockey (remember it?) has Wayne Gretzky’s 51-game point scoring streak. Basketball’s best streaks were by teams – the Celtics’ eight NBA championships and UCLA’s seven NCAA titles in a row.

It’s safe to say Woods’ 142 ranks among the three best streaks in golf along with Byron Nelson’s 11 consecutive victories in 1945 and Woods’ four major championship victories in a row in 2000-01.

Of those, Nelson’s is the most unbreakable and unthinkable; that run came when competition wasn’t nearly as good or deep as now. Woods’ four consecutive majors are the most valuable. And whereas the Tiger Slam speaks of high skill and a hot spell over 12 months, the 142 points to constant determination over seven years.

Heart is the most impressive aspect of Woods. That’s saying something because he has golf’s best mental game and short game and has dominated often with his very-long game.

He brings his lunch pail to work, gets busy and stays focused. I’ve seen him seemingly lose his spirit on only one hole during his nine years as a professional – No. 17 at the 1999 Nelson, where he hit a couple of shots quickly and didn’t seem to care much during a double-bogey 5. Then there was the time, I’m told, he took a penalty drop at the Mercedes Championships and hit quickly in disgust. That’s about it.

So 142 might be a number, but in Woods’ case it’s testament that he doesn’t head to the post office, no matter how he feels. It’s about grinding.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt about it,” Haney said. “The most impressive thing to me is he has zero quit in it.”

Here’s some perspective: The average number of cuts made in a row by Tour players is two. The new current streak is 20 by Ernie Els. The top seven players on the current list have combined to make 90 consecutive cuts. The next best run during the Woods Era is 53 by Vijay Singh in the late 1990s.

“This is more about intestinal fortitude than anything else,” said Woods, who has missed only three cuts in 175 Tour starts as a professional. “Days when you just don’t have it, you don’t mail it in, you don’t pack it in, you give it everything you’ve got. You grind it out, I don’t care what kind of game you (have). You somehow find a way to get it done.”

This time Woods shot 1-over-par 69-72–141 and missed by one because his driving, irons and putting were just a bit off. He said he struggled while warming up for Round 2, and it showed. He hit four of 14 fairways and bogeyed three of the last six holes – taking three putts from 20 feet at 13 and failing to convert from greenside bunkers at 16 and 18. A missed 15-footer at the last clinched his early exit.

“I should have missed many a cut by now, but you just somehow figure out a way,” Woods said before leaving. “I believe you should always have the switch on. You can’t turn it on and off.”

If it happens to get turned off, there’s always the Saturday Series to fall back on.

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