- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The golf world has had nearly a week to recover from the unthinkable: Tiger Woods’ first missed cut since 1998.

As sports streaks go, Tiger’s run of 142 straight starts without missing a cut is a monster, a run we’re not likely to see challenged in our lifetimes. After all, it took nearly 60 years for someone to come along with the combination of talent and grit to break Byron Nelson’s mark of 113 straight cuts. That’s why it was somehow fitting that Woods’ streak came to an end at the Byron Nelson Championship with 93-year-old Byron on hand to witness the momentous occasion.

Golf purists have grumbled about Tiger’s streak for years. Why? Because if you subtract the number of no-cut events for which Tiger was credited with a made cut over the years (Mercedes, Tour Championship and the three World Golf Championships), Woods loses 31 cuts off his total and the streak becomes 111, or two fewer than Nelson made consecutively between 1941 and 1948.

Of course, no less than 13 of the events for which Nelson was credited with making a cut during his streak were either match-play tournaments or events in which he was partnered in four-ball competition with Jug McSpaden, Jimmy Thomson or Henry Picard. The upshot is that Nelson, too, received his share of freebies during his run, and neither mark should be diminished because of the Tour’s questionable brand of statistical accounting.

Fact is, it’s hard to argue that Tiger’s streak doesn’t belong on the short list of the greatest in sports history. Obviously, it’s a difficult and extremely subjective business to attempt to compare epic streaks from different sports.

Perhaps the most compelling way to go about this task is to look at the relative gaps between the given streak and the second longest streak. That’s why Nelson’s consecutive victory streak (11 in 1945) is considerably more impressive than say Lance Armstrong’s recent run of six straight Tour de France victories. Why? Because Nelson’s total nearly doubles the second longest streaks in his sport (six by Ben Hogan in 1948 and Tiger Woods in 2000), while the wheels were still spinning on Miguel Indurain’s fivepeat (1991-95) when Armstrong began his run.

Using this standard, Woods outstripped Nelson’s cut streak by a healthy 26 percent, a number that puts it roughly in the same pantheon, at least statistically speaking, with Joe DiMaggio’s hit streak lead over Pete Rose and Willie Keeler (56-44 or 27 percent).

All streaks involve a combination of performance and endurance. But the second seemingly obvious way to evaluate such marks is to look at which streaks involve a higher percentage of the former, because excellence always outstrips mere endurance.

Using this theory, Brett Favre’s run of starts with Green Bay would rate over Cal Ripken’s run in Baltimore, because not only is it more difficult to stay on the field in football, a higher level of relative routine performance is demanded of NFL quarterbacks than major league infielders. Woods’ streak rates above both using this system, because Tiger was not allowed the luxury of a four-interception performance, much less a pedestrian .251 season (see Ripken in 1992). Making 142 straight cuts requires consistent excellence.

No matter where you rank Tiger’s streak, perhaps it’s most notable because his 142 straight cuts were the tangible result of his ultimate intangible greatness — his competitive fire. For all his power, creativity and clutch-putting prowess, Woods’ ability to grind a ball-striking 76 into a scorecard 72 is his most sublime talent. Tiger’s true genius is that he never stops fighting; he’s a fifth-gear scrapper whether he’s near the top of the leader board or on the fifth page of also-rans.

That grit is why he made 142 straight cuts. That’s why he’s golf’s ultimate champion. And though Tiger will fall behind Vijay Singh in the world rankings after this week, that’s why all eyes will be focused on Woods when the U.S. Open arrives at Pinehurst next month.

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