By Dave Shedloski
Of all the talents Tiger Woods possesses, one of his most redeeming qualities is his ability to settle an issue.
With a hard-fought, sudden-death playoff victory over Jim Furyk Aug. 26 at the World Golf Championships-NEC Invitational, the No. 1 player in the world conveniently provided answers to several pressing questions, while leaving just one item in doubt: How long before the Tiger Woods Diet becomes all the rage?
With his third consecutive victory at Firestone Country Club, Woods, 25, emphatically answered questions:
• About a so-called slump, his second lull of the year.
• About his intensity following his historic Masters victory and unprecedented fourth consecutive major title.
• About whom might be the leading candidate for PGA Tour Player of the Year.
All of it was settled when Woods whistled a 140-yard wedge shot to 2 feet on the 18th hole for a kick-in birdie that finally subdued a tenacious Furyk on the seventh extra hole – the longest playoff on the PGA Tour in a decade.
“It was a lot of fun playing and competing at that level,” said Woods, who pocketed $1 million with his fifth PGA Tour victory this year and 29th of his career. “Not too often do you get a chance to have your emotions and your intensity and your level of competitiveness at that high a level. That, to me, is the ultimate.”
Woods, who matched Jack Nicklaus for most victories by a player in his 20s, returned to the victory podium after five tournaments out of the top 10 – his longest such drought – and won for the first time since winning his third consecutive Memorial Tournament June 3. With six wins in a row in Ohio, Woods became the first player since Gene Sarazen in the late 1920s to win a tournament three consecutive times twice in one year.
He did it against a field that included 19 of the top 20 players in the world by shooting 66-67-66-69–268, 12 under par, on Firestone’s South Course, then scraping out a series of pars from bizarre locations in the playoff against Ryder Cup teammate Furyk, who led after each of the first three rounds and entered the final round two shots ahead.
Woods did it nine pounds lighter, the result of four consecutive afternoon rounds in the Atlanta heat at the PGA Championship – where his tie for 29th equaled his worst finish as a pro in a major – followed by a bout with food poisoning.
“It’s a great diet if you ever want to go on one,” Woods, listed at 180 pounds, advised sarcastically.
It was Woods’ summer of first-place fasting that left golf aficionados wondering, and emboldened golf’s Lefty, Phil Mickelson, with his two victories, 10 top 3s and 13 top-10 finishes, to proffer the notion that Player of the Year wasn’t a foregone conclusion.
“I really don’t know who’s played better,” said Mickelson, who was tied with Woods through 36 holes but was derailed by an esoteric rule that resulted in a penalty stroke after Round 3. “I know there’s one player that’s won more. But I don’t know who has played better throughout the year.”
Countered Woods: “He definitely has more top 10s, but I figure I’ve had a decent year. There is a long way to go . . . some big tournaments coming up that will probably end up deciding who gets it.”
Then he added the kicker: “We only get four chances at winning major championships a year, and those are the tournaments that will define your career. I was very fortunate to win one this year.”