Is it really a streak?
Bob Hope once said, "If you watch a game, it's fun. If you play it, it's recreation. If you work at it, it's golf."
Those words never rang truer than at his eponymous PGA Tour event during Sunday's final round, when gusts of 40 mph forced players to work for their birdies, as scores soared and birdies were at a premium.
Then again, golf is always work for Tiger Woods. This week, the world's top-ranked player goes back to work in his first PGA Tour event of the season. The Weekly 18 begins with the dirty half-dozen that Tiger doesn't want to talk about.
Don't call it a streak.
That's the first thing Tiger Woods wants you to know about the six consecutive PGA Tour victories he won to conclude 2006, a string he will put on the line in his season debut as defending champion at this week's Buick Invitational.
"Technically, I'm going for seven in a row," Woods said via his Web site earlier this week, "but as I said last year, my streak really ended when I lost in the first round of the HSBC World Match Play Championship in England."
It's true. Woods hasn't lost a tour event since finishing second to Trevor Immelman at the Western Open last July, but that doesn't mean he's found success everywhere he's played. Tiger lost to Shaun Micheel in the first round of the aforementioned Match Play, was part of the losing American side at the Ryder Cup, finished runner-up at the HSBC Champions tournament in November and succumbed in a playoff to Padraig Harrington at the Dunlop Phoenix a week later.
That's not to say Woods' life has been all abject failure since his last tour win at the WGC-AmEx Championship. He claimed a seventh career win in the four-man Grand Slam of Golf field and also earned a victory at his own Target World Challenge
Still, the question remains: Should we listen to Tiger or the record books?
As humble as Woods' protestation might be, rules are rules. A victory at Torrey Pines would mean Tiger is only four off the pace set by the late Byron Nelson in 1945. Of course, back then Nelson was competing against depleted fields that consisted mostly of only Americans, rather than players from all over the world. It's what makes Woods' current record of six in a row so impressive; most of those victories have come against top international fields.
He'll certainly try to make it seven straight this week at the Buick. Just don't call it a streak.
Trevor Immelman. J.B. Holmes. Troy Matteson. Camilo Villegas. Eric Axley. Nathan Green. Bubba Watson. The list of 2006 PGA Tour rookies who found success in their freshman season is extensive and estimable, which is one reason Charley Hoffman got lost in the mix. The stringy-haired San Diego native made the cut in 21 of 29 starts last season, including five top-10 finishes, and wound up 82nd on the money list -- a respectable result for any player, let alone a rookie. Well, he's not lost in the mix anymore. Hoffman rallied to finish regulation at the Bob Hope Classic birdie-eagle, then posted a birdie on the first playoff hole to defeat John Rollins and earn his first career win. Interestingly enough, Hoffman -- usually a big bomber who finished 10th on the tour in driving distance a year ago -- played a more finesse game this week, ranking just 62nd in length off the tee, but leading the field in total putts.
The season is only three weeks old, but the Weekly 18 already has a legitimate candidate for our annual postseason Shots of the Year column. After all, there will be plenty of holes-in-one this year, but not many will come from a PGA Tour rookie while in contention for his first career victory. That's exactly what Jeff Quinney accomplished, though, knocking home an ace at the 17th hole on Sunday that moved him to within one stroke of the leaders at the time. "I knew I really needed to hit one good," Quinney later said. "I just pured it. ... It left the club and I just knew it was good all the way." Though a final-hole par left him two shots out of the playoff, Quinney earned a T-4 result for the week, by far his best finish in 18 career starts.
The knock on Scott Verplank over the years has been that he's a good player who doesn't always come up strong in the clutch. Based on the numbers, it's a fair assessment. Since his most recent victory in 2001, Verplank owns six runner-up finishes and three other third-place results. Through three rounds at the Hope he looked primed to contend for yet another title, but a fourth-round 74 dropped him from solo second place to a share of 13th. He shot 73 in the final round and eventually finished T-8.
Verplank isn't the only accomplished player who's hit a dry patch since 2001. Robert Allenby appeared headed for a special career when he earned two PGA Tour victories during each of the 2000 and '01 seasons, but since then he's failed to find the winner's circle, despite finishing between 20th and 63rd on the money list each year. An opening-round 63 at the Hope (nine birdies, nine pars) gave Allenby a two-shot lead out of the gate, but rounds of 70-70-70-74 left him, like Verplank, in a share of eighth.
What can we glean from Phil Mickelson's first tournament of the new year? Well, not much. The new-look Lefty (he said he "lost 20, 25 pounds and put on about 10 to 15 more with muscle" since the end of last season) enjoyed a decent four-day run at the Hope, entering the final round in a share of 19th place, but posted a 6-over 78 on Sunday to finish T-45. Don't read too much into it. While most top players spent their "offseason" competing on other tours and various Silly Season events, Mickelson took an actual vacation away from the game. Let's see Mickelson get a few more starts under his newly loose-fitting belt before we analyze any long-term effects of his altered body shape.
It wasn't a victory following a final-round 59, as David Duval accomplished at the Hope back in 1999, but it was hardly his 2005 debacle, either. Two years ago, Duval shot rounds of 82-79-85-72 in the desert for a four-round total of 30-over par. This time around, Duval was squarely in the middle of those two performances, making the cut but finishing only T-39 for the week. Consider it progress. Knowing his previous highs (13-time PGA Tour winner and 2001 British Open champion) and lows (one made cut in 20 starts two years ago), Duval's got to learn to walk before he can run again. In other words, making cuts is a good sign that we might see him in contention again before too long.
While Duval's game looked improved at the Hope, he was speaking the part of a guy with some renewed confidence as well. When asked after the final round what his goals for the 2007 season include, he simply stated, "Win golf tournaments." It might not be such a far-fetched idea. "I feel like my golf game and swing are as good as [they've] ever been," he told Golf Channel. "Now it's just a matter of things coming together."
The Classic Club was playing so tough on Sunday that Joe Ogilvie's relatively benign score of 4-under 68 was the round of the day, moving him from T-60 entering the final day to T-18 when it was completed. It was part of an all-or-nothing tournament for Ogilvie, who strangely enough led the field in birdies (29) and also tied for first in bogeys (18) during the week.
If you thought the wind was hindering the scores of those atop the Hope leaderboard, just think what it did to the players lingering near the bottom. Steve Lowery finished dead last of the 76 players who made the cut and the scorecard was unusually ugly. Starting on the back-nine at the Classic Club, Lowery posted one par, five bogeys, two double-bogeys and a triple-bogey for a midpoint total of -- yikes -- 12-over 48. The bright side for Lowery? To his credit, he bounced back to shoot 3-under on his final nine holes, totaling a 9-over 81 for the day.
Ask any PGA Tour member who the best current player without a win is, and you're likely to hear the names Tim Clark, Bo Van Pelt and Brett Quigley more often than not. Let's throw one more guy into the mix: Daniel Chopra. The tour's leading putter last season has already made two cuts in his first two events this year. Trust us: It's only a matter of time before Chopra earns a shiny trophy and oversized check.
Call it karma. Last year, Chris Couch and Camilo Villegas dealt with the carnival that is Michelle Wie, seeing ultra-large galleries for their playing partner during the Sony Open's first two rounds. The golf gods rewarded each of them handsomely, though, as Couch earned his first career victory and Villegas became an international superstar. In 2005, Brett Wetterich played his first two rounds with Wie and found a similar fate, winning his first event and making the Ryder Cup team in '06. So what of this year's competitors? Diminutive journeyman Gavin Coles might not be primed for a breakout season, but rookie Stephen Marino is already finding success. A long hitter, the Q School grad has made the cut in each of his first two starts this year. If history is any indicator, he'll win one -- or at least contend -- at some point this season.
To call Wes Short Jr. a suprise winner at the 2005 PGA Tour event in Las Vegas is an extreme understatement. The unknown Texan was an alternate that week, but battled Jim Furyk into a playoff, which he won on the second extra hole. Since then, however, Short has hardly seen similar success. He's now missed the cut in 20 of 36 starts since that time, including at this week's Hope, with a best finish of T-11 at last year's limited-field Mercedes-Benz Championship. His best result in a full-field event since then is T-21.
It seems like every year the European Tour sees a few of its veteran stalwarts jump ship in favor of the riches on the U.S. tour, and 2007 is no different. Both Henrik Stenson and Angel Cabrera have decided to become full-timers on the PGA Tour this season, though the term "full-time" is a matter of debate. Neither one has competed in an event and won't be in the field at Torrey Pines this week, but as PGA Tour members, you can expect to see them in at least the minimum 15 events this season.
The Nationwide Tour season begins this week in Panama and if there's one player to keep an eye on this year, it's Ricky Barnes. The 2002 U.S. Amateur champion seemed destined for superstardom when he finished 21st at the Masters one year later, but his progress was halted in subsequent years. Last season Barnes finally put it all together, making the cut in each of his final 23 starts on the Nationwide circuit, but he missed out on a PGA Tour card by a mere $6,137. Expect him to be there in 2008.
Hale Irwin got most of the headlines, as the 61-year-old nearly shot his age, finishing with a second-round 62 en route to winning the Champions Tour's season-opening MasterCard Championship. But what a week it was for Gary Player, too. After celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary with wife Vivienne, the Black Knight proceeded to shoot better than his age of 71 in two of three rounds. For the week, Player shot 69-69-73 to finish T-34, his best result since an identical posting at this event last season.
Late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel showed up for the final round of the amateur portion of the Bob Hope and his game, uh, left a little something to be desired. Highlights of Kimmel's round often showed him immediately following impact with screams of "Look out, everybody! Here it comes!" as he blocked another shot toward the gallery. The performance earned Kimmel the dubious honor of "Worst Golfer" as presented by tournament host George Lopez during a Golf Channel telecast on Saturday. For the record, Kimmel's pro, Jesper Parnevik, shot a 1-over 73 with the celeb in his group, missing the cut by four strokes.
"Is there no beer? Are you not allowed to drink during this?"
-- Jimmy Kimmel, upon showing up as a participant at the Bob Hope Classic.
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com
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