- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 10, 2000

Why don't they just drop the "PGA" and start calling it the Tiger Tour? We've pretty much gotten to that point, anyway. Tiger Woods, aged 24, is a full-fledged mania now. Here's how I know: Early Monday afternoon, when he was going after his sixth straight win at Pebble Beach, I tried to access the Tour's Web site to see how he was doing and I couldn't get in. Too many other golfniks had the same idea.

Think about it: It's about 1:30, a time when most people are supposed to be ahem working, and everybody has Tiger on the brain. Is he making a run? Is front-runner Matt Gogel beginning to get the shakes? Can the streak possibly last? Tiger isn't a golfer anymore, he's a Beatle. He's Princess Di.

Six tournaments, six trophies. And not just any tournaments either. Four of them two World Golf Championships, the Tour Championship and the Mercedes had heavyweight fields. Even the Pebble Beach Pro-Am had its share of big names, names like Leonard, Love, Lehman, Garcia, Singh and Duval. But it doesn't seem to matter who Tiger is competing against these days. If he's playing well, he wins.

We shouldn't be surprised, I suppose. He gave us some fairly strong hints it would be like this. Remember when he turned pro in September '96 and earned enough money in seven events to qualify for the Tour Championship? Who had ever done that? And remember the next year, when he won the Masters by 12 strokes? Who had ever done that?

But his play since last June has been even more supernatural. In 12 events, he has racked up nine victories a .750 batting average. And his streak of six consecutive wins is the longest since 1948 (when Ben Hogan accomplished the same feat). Too bad he didn't enter the New Hampshire primary; he might have won that, too.

Like all great athletes, Tiger is redefining what's possible. Nobody thought it was possible to score 100 points in a pro basketball game … until Wilt Chamberlain came along. Nobody thought it was possible to hit 70 homers in a season … until Mark McGwire came along. Nobody thought it was possible to break Jim Brown's career rushing record … until Walter Payton came along. And nobody thought it was possible to dominate golf the way Jack Nicklaus did in the '60s and '70s until Tiger Woods came along.

When Tiger joined the Tour, the prevailing thinking was: He's a terrific talent, but these are different times. There are too many good players now. The fields are too deep. He can't expect to win 18 majors or 70 tournaments like Nicklaus did. Well, not only is Tiger matching Jack title for title, he's inviting comparisons with deities like Hogan and Byron Nelson, who did some things even the Golden Bear couldn't do.

Like Nelson running off 11 victories in a row in 1945. Now there's a record for you. Nelson didn't lose a tournament from March 8 (the Miami Four-Ball Invitational) to Aug. 4 (the Canadian Open). Indeed, he had only one close call in that stretch, beating Sam Snead in a playoff at Charlotte. In the eight other stroke-play events (two were match play), he won by an average of seven strokes.

Granted, 1945 was a war year, but Hogan and Snead were still around to battle Nelson (along with fine players like Jug McSpaden, E.J. Harrison and Sam Byrd). And consider this: Joe DiMaggio once told Byron he considered the 11-tournament winning streak a greater feat than his own 56-game hitting streak. (I'm inclined to agree, though I still think Joe's feat of marrying Marilyn Monroe tops 'em all.)

No one seriously expects Tiger to surpass Lord Byron. Heck, he's barely halfway there barely a half-Nelson. But then, no one expected him to win four straight (last accomplished: 1953). Or five straight (last accomplished: 1948). Or six straight (ditto). A London bookmaker has already cut the odds on him capturing the Grand Slam from 200-1 to 80-1. If Tiger pulls it off, the entire British betting industry could collapse.

When he was shooting for his sixth straight victory at Pebble Beach, Tiger said, "I still really don't consider it six because it's over two seasons. I'm just counting that I've won this year once, and now I'm trying to win two in a row." Sound familiar? That's kind of how Cal Ripken approached the Great Gehrig Chase. "I don't really look at it as playing in 2,000 straight games," he would say. "I look at it as playing in every game for 12 straight seasons."

Interesting psychology. By Ripken's reducing this gigantic number (2,000 games) to a much smaller number (12 seasons), breaking Gehrig's record may have become more manageable in his mind. And Tiger is taking a similar tack with his streak. Will it work for him, too? I wouldn't count on it, but it's going to be fun watching him try.

Because Tiger right now is in that special place, the Rainbow Room of the sports psyche. That place Byron Nelson was in back in '45. "My game had gotten so good," Nelson said, "there were times when I actually would get bored playing."

That could be Tiger's biggest challenge in the years ahead, bigger than Sergio or Ernie Els or David Duval: not getting bored. If he can clear that hurdle, no record will be safe from him.

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