Woods continues winning in different ways

8/14/2006 - Golf

While bearing down on the Golden Bear, while slamming into an elite group of players within sight of the Slammer, Tiger Woods has proven in the last few weeks that he can get it done in various ways.

The game's No. 1-ranked player is widely known for the long ball. It is what initially grabbed our attention more than a decade ago, this gangly amateur hitting golf balls out of sight.

To this day, fans marvel at his power, shriek at the sound the ball makes when it leaves the clubface, shake their heads at the distance his shots travel.

But Woods has hammered home the point that he can win playing any style. He can win hitting home runs or by playing small ball.

Woods has won his share of tournaments on brutally tough courses where power was important (Augusta National and Bethpage Black come to mind), but he also can win at places where it is more important to position the ball, or where birdies are prevalent, such as was the case Sunday at the Buick Open.

Truth be told, Woods does not much care for the type of golf he had to play at Warwick Hills in Flint, Mich., where he won his 50th PGA Tour title. He prefers a tough track, where pars are meaningful, where it is more about the shots you hit than the putts you make.

That said, he can go low, too. Although 28 birdies in a tournament is a personal best for Woods, he has been a birdie machine while winning at such places as Las Vegas and Disney. He did it at an American Express Championship in Ireland. And he's done it in major championships, such as at Augusta and St. Andrews.

That is typically not the case at major championships, and yet Woods had to make a bunch of birdies last month at Royal Liverpool to win the British Open.

It almost makes some of the conjecture after his British Open win at Royal Liverpool two weeks ago seem silly.

There were those who wondered about the fact that Woods hit just a single driver during the tournament. Doesn't that cheapen the victory, they thought? Shouldn't a major championship venue require a few drivers to be legitimate?

Admittedly, Woods has struggled with that club at times. His driving accuracy is nowhere near as good as it was in 2000-01, when he was at his best.

But scoffing at his non-use of a driver failed to acknowledge just how difficult Woods made things on himself. His average second shot at Royal Liverpool was just under 200 yards -- and there is no guarantee that even Tiger is going to hit a green from there, let alone get it close. And yet, he was second in the tournament in greens in regulation. It was an awesome display of long-iron play.

Then at the Buick Open, where the course conditions could not have been any more different, where the strategy had to completely opposite, Woods shot four straight rounds of 66.

The victory made him the seventh, and youngest, to reach the milestone of 50 wins, with Billy Casper just one ahead and Byron Nelson two in front. With 32 more wins, Woods would match the all-time record held by Sam Snead.

Of greater importance to Woods, of course, is the major championship record of 18 held by Jack Nicklaus. He is just seven behind, with another chance to move close next week at the PGA Championship.

The discussion should not leave out the fact that Woods has been putting well, always key in any victory. A few more putts drop at Augusta National in April, and this year would have taken on a completely different look.

"Playing the way I played the last two tournaments it's a lot more satisfying than hitting it all over the lot and contending and if you're lucky enough, to win the tournament," Woods said. "Playing this way is a lot more fun. And a lot less stress, too."

Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at harig@sptimes.com.