- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 15, 2004

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Tiger Woods’ list of accomplishments is so lengthy that it’s hard to keep track of them all. And one feat that has definitely flown under our radar is his streak of making 124 consecutive cuts. Oh, it gets mentioned from time to time, but not with the same reverence as, say, Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak or John Wooden’s seven straight NCAA basketball titles. The “SportsCenter” Guy (or Gal) usually says something like: “Tiger made the cut again to extend his all-time PGA Tour record. … Meanwhile, at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show …”

I mention this not because Tiger is underappreciated or in need of a hug, but because his streak might well be in jeopardy this week at Shinnecock Hills. U.S. Open fairways, as we all know, are demonically narrow, and the rough is only slightly shorter than Don King’s hair. The Open is no place for a player with a misbehaving driver, and Tiger, let’s face it, has been scattering galleries with Gerald Fordian frequency this year.

The amazing thing is, he’s still been able to put up decent scores. In fact, in his last three tournaments, he’s finished T-3, T-4 and third. But Shinnecock, a breezy bit of geography hard by the Atlantic Ocean, poses a much bigger challenge. As he himself put it, “Good shots here sometimes aren’t rewarded at all.”

And we all remember what happened to Tiger the last time he played here. It was in 1995, his first Open, and he didn’t even make it through the second round. He tried to hack an approach shot out of the tall grass on the fourth hole and sprained the ligaments in his right hand, forcing him to withdraw.

Thus his motto for this week: “Stay out of the fescue.”

He’d better — if he wants to have to a chance to win … and to keep his streak alive. Let’s return to the latter for a moment, because it truly is remarkable. In the modern era, only Jack Nicklaus’ streak of 105 made cuts from 1970 to ‘76 comes close to Tiger’s. Hale Irwin’s run of 86 doesn’t compare in either length or quality, and after him there’s a big drop-off to Vijay Singh and Tom Kite at 53.

It’s not like Tiger has been Just Slipping By, either. Only a dozen times during his streak has he finished out of the top 25. (Contrast this with Irwin, who in one three-month stretch in 1977 placed 31st, 44th, 40th, 41st, 46th, 50th, 44th and 35th.) Yes, Tiger would have missed the cut in the AT&T; in ‘98 if, as intended, there had been a cut. (Storms forced the postponement of the final round and shortened the tournament to 54 holes, with Tiger WD-ing after 36.) But that, I’ll just point out, was at the beginning of his streak, and he’s made 118 cuts in a row since (five more than Byron Nelson, No.2 on the all-time list).

Tiger, meanwhile, says it’s getting harder all the time to make cuts. “The fields are so much deeper,” he says. “[Players are] shooting good scores week in and week out. So far this year we’ve had two cuts at 4-under par — 70-plus guys shooting 4-under par. That goes to show you how deep the fields are. It’s reflected in the majors, Ben Curtis and Shaun Micheel winning for the first time in majors.”

More evidence of Tiger’s otherworldliness (supplied by my ever-helpful 14-year-old): In 1994, Nick Price had one of the greatest years in PGA Tour history; he won six tournaments, including the British Open and PGA. You know how many cuts he missed that year? Five (in 19 events)! Here you’ve got a Hall of Famer having the best year of his career, and he’s missing almost half a dozen cuts. Heck, Tiger might not miss that many by the time he’s 40.

But at Shinnecock, Tiger won’t be able to scramble the way he does on other courses — scramble like Michael Vick, scramble like a short-order cook at Denny’s. He’s going to have to hit the ball straighter off the tee, plain and simple. Otherwise, the trophy will go to someone else. Two-time winner Ernie Els, perhaps. Or overdue Paddy Harrington.

Beyond that, though, looms the possibility that The Streak will end here. Nicklaus nearly missed the cut in the U.S. Open in 1970 at the age of 30, shooting an 81 in the first round and finishing tied for 51st. If it could happen to him … Also, Shinnecock is laid out like one of those British Open courses that have given Tiger occasional trouble (e.g. his 81 at Muirfield in 2002 and his 77 at Royal Birkdale in ‘98). Suffice it to say there are better venues for the world’s No.1 golfer than these Southampton links.

“I know I haven’t played up to my absolute peak [this year],” Tiger says. “But who does, week in and week out?”

Well, you used to, Tiger. At least, you did in 1999 and 2000. But you’ve been wielding such a drunk driver of late that folks have begun to ponder the imponderable: Woods Misses Cut; Streak Snapped at 124.

Hey, it’s gotta end sometime.

Doesn’t it?

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