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Archive for Wednesday, July 11, 2001

Woods on familiar path

However, differences do exist in 2001

July 11, 2001

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Nothing is ever the way it seems with Tiger Woods.

Twice this year, he has chastised the media for exaggerating performances good and bad. It took only two tournaments at the start of the season for someone to mention the word "slump." After three straight victories, including the Masters for a clean sweep of the majors, he was deemed unbeatable.

"They make more of it when you are playing well, and they make more of it when you are playing bad," Woods said. "That's just the way it is."

Halfway through the year, the record reflects the same old Tiger.

Woods has won five times going into the British Open, same as last year.

He has one major, same as last year.

A year ago, he holed out from the 15th fairway at Pebble Beach for a seven-stroke comeback. In Germany this year, he holed out from the 13th fairway to come back from 10 strokes behind on the weekend.

Blowouts? Nothing will approach the 15-stroke victory at the U.S. Open last year, although Woods did sleepwalk to a seven-shot win at the Memorial last month.

Alas, there are differences.

Woods already has finished out of the top 10 five times this year (including a major), compared with only three times all of last year.

He has finished at least 10 strokes back in three tournaments. The 1999 Bay Hill Invitational was the last time he was that far behind the winner.

And unlike last year, the money race isn't over.

Woods was approaching the $5 million mark on the PGA Tour money list at this time a year ago, twice as much money as the next guy. He still has a comfortable lead over Phil Mickelson ($835,665), although there are seven more tournaments worth at least $4 million, and Woods won't play in two of those.

What does it all mean?

Tiger is still Tiger, but at least he has something that resembles competition.

Then again, he could win the last two majors, add another World Golf Championship or two, finish the year with 10 victories and $10 million and nothing will have changed.

The midterm report, looking at what a difference a year makes:

Challengers

Now: Mickelson and Sergio Garcia. Both are two-time winners on tour this year. Mickelson gets extra credit because of his seven additional finishes in the top three, Garcia because of his youth and charisma. Mickelson is one major away his first one from being the closest thing Woods has ever had to a rival.

Then: None. The closest was Hal Sutton, almost old enough to be Woods' father. He stared down Woods in a dramatic duel to win The Players Championship, and proclaimed that Tiger is not a god. Mickelson stopped Woods' winning streak in San Diego and had three wins, but that was still two fewer than Woods and no majors.

MIA

Now: Ernie Els and David Duval. Els hasn't been the same since getting spooked by one bad shot in the Mercedes, a tournament that was his to lose. He left the U.S. Open more concerned about his own desire than taking on Tiger. Duval should get an incomplete for a wrist injury in March. Still, he had his worst West Coast swing in five years and has not contended on a regular basis.

Then: Duval and Davis Love III. Duval was mean, lean and winless. Love was just winless, in the second year of a drought that would span 62 tour events before he won this year at Pebble Beach.

Monday, Monday

Now: Woods was at three of the five tournaments that concluded Monday. He won The Players Championship, finished 12 strokes back at the Buick Classic and wasn't part of the 18-hole playoff at the U.S. Open.

Then: Woods was in all three Monday finishes his great comeback at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the great duel with Sutton at the Players, the great yawn at Memorial with his five-stroke victory.

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