- Jason Sobel, Senior Golf Writer
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Before making his first start of the season, Tiger Woods surmised that his chances of winning this year's Grand Slam are "easily within reason."
Although most focused on the final two words of that phrase, perhaps we should have been paying more attention to the first word.
If he continues playing as he did at the Buick Invitational this week, winning by eight strokes, many things will come easy for Woods this season. The Weekly 18 begins with a look into the secret for his success.
1. Never enoughLadies and gentlemen, we present the world's No. 1-ranked player, winner of his fourth straight Buick Invitational title this week:
"Yesterday was terrible. I drove it like a dog yesterday. I was disappointed the way I drove it today because I haven't been driving it like that. Whether it was 5-wood, 3-wood or driver, I didn't drive it very good at all. I had a low left ball or a spinny high right. Kind of hard to aim when you've got both of those things going. I just overshaped them. It was pretty embarrassing. I hit a terrible tee shot over to the right.
"I was really surprised at some of the shots I hit off the tees because I haven't been doing that. I just have to hit the ball better than I'm hitting it right now. I actually had a mis-hit and ended up OK. Bladed my second one trying to keep it underneath the tree. It had a little happy face on it.
"I didn't have the speed of the greens early, kept running them by I missed a short one at the second hole.
"Five was just a terrible shot. I laid the shaft down, got stuck, flipped it over there, hit it real short. Six, I was trying to hit the ball short right of the hole, but not that short. Seven, wind knocked it down. I thought I hit the ball middle of the green. I was just trying to play middle of the green. Just don't hit it over the green, and it came up well short. And then eight, I chickened out on it because I was hitting a big hook, and I was thinking, 'Well, if this ball lands, it's going to be ripping across the green. Just don't hit it long.' I hit it short of the green. On 15, I was trying to hit kind of a low cut, and to be honest with you, I hit it a little bit off the toe and hit kind of a low draw.
"I've gotten some pretty good breaks the past couple days, some pretty good lies in the rough I got a lucky break, and it stayed up. I got a couple of good bounces on the greens. "
Based on Woods' words -- and yes, these are all quotes from his truly this past week -- you'd get the feeling he had been shanking it around Torrey Pines like an 18-handicapper, not winning in dominant fashion. He might not be an eternal pessimist, but the five bogeys Woods carded this week (four of which came on Sunday) will stick in his craw longer than the 24 birdies will leave him smiling. He'll be able to see some clouds peeking through that great big silver lining. He might be happy with his most recent victory, but he won't be satisfied.
And therein lies the secret to Tiger's success.
"I wanted to go out there and make no bogeys and shoot something under par," Woods told CBS after immediately walking off the course with a final-round 71. "Well, I got half of it right."
Make no mistake, after flying 20 hours to compete in this week's Dubai Desert Classic, he will continue working on his game, striving for better results from every shot. Although his peers look at Woods' game and see an unbeatable, dominant presence, the game's top-ranked player views himself as a work in progress, never quite reaching the level of perfection others allow him.
Should any other player procure an eight-shot PGA Tour victory, it would take a crowbar to pry the smile from his face. Copies of all four rounds would find a permanent place in the home DVD player, and thoughts of the win would dance in the mind for the remainder of the season.
Not so for Woods, of course. With a straight face, he declared Sunday, "I still have holes in my game that I need to fix and need to improve on. I just think that what I've been working on, I'm headed in the right direction."
Yes, he's headed in the right direction. And if he ever fixes those holes and improves what he's working on, well, maybe -- just maybe -- Woods someday will be satisfied with his own performance.
2. Stat's all, folksThere are plenty of numbers and stats, facts and figures being bandied about right now as people try to put some of Woods' marks into perspective. But as Tiger knows, it's all about getting the W, and nothing says more to his recent run than this simple list:
Add it up and the data show that since August, Woods has faced 609 total competitors on the PGA Tour. Only one -- Phil Mickelson at last year's Deutsche Bank Championship -- carded a better score than Tiger over four rounds. (Brett Wetterich and Arron Oberholser tied him in that event.) Simply put, there's no better way to analyze his dominance the past six months.
3. On a rollWe have an early nominee for Putt of the Year. It will, perhaps, be surpassed by a major-winner or another crucial roll later this season, but Woods' gem on No. 11 in the final round tops the list so far. From 57 feet, 9 inches away, he rolled it over a ridge to just about hole high, then watched as the ball took a 90-degree left-hand turn and dropped into the bottom of the cup. "I actually had to hit it past the hole just a touch because of the slope coming off the bunker actually would feed back in towards the hole," said Woods, who figured he played about 15 feet of break. "There happened to be some dark patches up on top of the ridge, and if I hit it a foot or so past that as it started to come down the hill, I should have a pretty good line. When I hit it, I thought it hit it pretty good, and then when it came over the hill, I thought, that's pretty good, but as it started picking up speed, I'm like, just hit the hole somehow, because it was moving pretty good. It would have probably gone six, seven feet by, but it had a train wreck and went in." The birdie was enough to get even Woods -- who led by 10 at that point -- pumping his fist and waving to the adoring, astounded gallery.
4. Making a statementClassy move by Arnold Palmer to congratulate Woods on his 62nd career PGA Tour victory, which ties Arnie for fourth all time. "I congratulate Tiger. I'm sure that there are many, many more coming in the future," he said in a statement. "There isn't any question about that. I wish him all the luck in the world." Then again, Palmer didn't have to spend the weekend working on his speech. He simply could have submitted those words on Friday, when Woods owned a four-stroke lead halfway through the tourney.
5. Rory's storyThe record books will forever show that Rory Sabbatini finished just two spots below Woods this week, finishing T-3, but it was never that close. And neither were they. Woods and Sabbatini reportedly crossed paths in the Buick interview room after the opening round, although neither made eye contact or said a word to the other. In his news conference, Rory downplayed any bad blood between the two, saying, "There's no animosity. We're both competitors, and we both want to win. That's the situation." That led to this exchange:
- Q: Does he get under your skin a bit?
RORY SABBATINI: No.
Q: You've just had some interesting remarks in the past about him.
RORY SABBATINI: No.
With that, Sabbatini's session with the media ended. Give the guy credit, at least. Maybe he's learning when to refrain from stoking those fires.
6. Horses for coursesDon't expect another Francis Ouimet story -- or even another Angel Cabrera story -- come June. There hasn't been a champion at Torrey Pines who didn't also win a major in his career since Peter Jacobsen in 1995, meaning the game's best always seem to rise to the occasion on one of the country's toughest courses. Since Jake's victory, winners have included Woods (six times), Mickelson (twice), John Daly, Jose Maria Olazabal, Scott Simpson, Mark O'Meara and Davis Love III.
7. Imada lot of birdiesThat said, if you're looking for a dark horse candidate at this year's U.S. Open, keep an eye on Ryuji Imada. Thanks to nine -- yep, nine! -- final-round birdies, he jumped into a share of second place at Torrey Pines, site of the year's second major. "I think the weather helped me a lot," he said of the wet conditions. "[With] the wind and the soft greens, obviously I was able to hold those shots onto the green. And I obviously putted well. I made a lot of putts today, and that helped, too." Despite a fairly nondescript
résumé, Imada has a record of playing well at Open venues, finishing T-15 at Pinehurst in 2005 and T-12 the next year at Winged Foot.
8. Man of StreelWhat a wild week for Kevin Streelman. Plucked from the practice range on the South Course four minutes before teeing off on No. 10 at the North Course, the fifth alternate made the most of his opportunity, shooting an opening-round 67 to trail by two strokes. He later said:
- "I wasn't even expecting to play, so I have nothing to lose this week.
I'm going to put my best out there and see what happens."
His best was pretty good, as a second-round 69 gave the recent Q-school grad a date with Tiger (and Stewart Cink) in the final threesome Saturday. Asked whether he had met Woods, Streelman responded:
- "Thursday morning when I was waiting on the putting green, I kept my head down, was hitting some putts into this cup, and looked up and boom, he was right there in front of me. I was kind of awestruck for a second, and I said, 'Wow, I guess I am on the PGA Tour.' It was pretty cool."
Streelman kept his cool in Round 3, holding his own in front of the large galleries by shooting a 3-over 75 that dropped him into a share of 11th place. Afterward, he discussed what it was like to compete with Woods:
- "Man, that was one of the coolest things ever, no doubt about it. He was fun to watch but just kind of fun to compare myself against him, as well. It's inspiring and very educational. I recommend everyone try it at least one time."
The Cinderella story came to an unfortunate conclusion, though. A final-round 77 that included no birdies and five bogeys left Streelman in a share of 29th place -- and out of the field for this week's FBR Open. Immediately after completing his round at the Buick, he was to drive to Scottsdale, Ariz., in an attempt to Monday qualify:
- "I will be there [Monday] and don't expect too much, but sometimes that's when you play your best. I'll give it my best shot. If not, it'll be a good week off, and I have three big weeks coming up after that."
9. Kim possibleWe at the Weekly 18 have to admit we hadn't gotten a chance to check out the transcript from O'Meara's pre-tournament news conference before a quick encounter with TV personality/researcher extraordinaire Howie Schwab in the ESPN cafeteria. "Check it out," he said. So we did. And the Schwab was right. Here's what really stuck out:
- "I played the Merrill Lynch Shootout this year with Anthony Kim as my partner.
Everybody asks, 'Who's the next young player to come along? Who's the next talented young player?' I see a lot of talented young players. Nothing really kind of jumped out at me until I played with this kid. I played with Anthony for three rounds there in Naples, and I was blown away.
I think Tiger's mental game was probably stronger [at a similar age]. I think actual technique-wise, swing-wise, I reckon Anthony's swing is better at 21 or 22 than what Tiger's was."
Wow, that's strong words from anyone, let alone a guy firmly entrenched in the Woods camp. Is he right? Well, we've been touting a win from Kim for a while now, so don't be discouraged by his MDF that followed a T-3 at last week's Bob Hope Classic. And we agree with O'Meara when he says, "There's no way he shouldn't play well every week. He's way too skilled not to."
10. Adam's Eve?Is this the year we finally see the real Adam Scott? The 27-year-old Aussie has risen to top-10 status among the world's elite, with 12 career international victories entering this season, but owns only one top-five finish in a major -- the 2006 PGA Championship, in which he finished six shots behind Woods. On Sunday, Scott claimed win No. 13, shooting a sublime 11-under 61 to take the Qatar Masters. "That was one of, if not, the best round of my life," he said after the round, which commenced with five straight birdies. Before dismissing the tourney as less significant than the Buick, consider this: Nine of the world's top 25 competed at Torrey Pines; eight competed in Qatar. Scott was joined by Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Niclas Fasth and Paul Casey among the star-studded field.
11. Missing the magicWhen was the last time a player shot 61 to come from behind and win a tournament and still disappointed the galleries? Such was the case for Scott, who missed a 4-foot birdie putt on 16, then followed with a birdie on the par-3 17th hole. He came to the par-5 final hole at 11-under, needing eagle for the magic number, but after pummeling his drive, Scott elected to lay up rather than go for the green. "I did my maths and knew my chance of 59 was gone, but I felt I still needed a birdie or two to make sure of winning the tournament," said Scott, whose closest pursuers were playing in groups behind him. "The birdie at the 17th was a bonus. Even though I had a good yardage at the last to go for it, winning the tournament was more important." The result? He played his second shot to 90 yards, pitched to 30 feet, then two-putted for par. Scott's 61 was still good enough for the lowest final round by a winner since Jamie Spence at the 1992 European Masters.
12. Value of the EuroOne final note on Scott: Like Qatar runner-up Stenson, he once again has taken up European Tour status for this season. (Unlike Stenson, however, he hasn't renounced PGA Tour membership.) Scott hasn't been a Euro Tour regular since 2005, when he won the Johnnie Walker Classic, but don't expect the move to equal extra time away from the PGA Tour. The Euro circuit mandates that a player must compete in at least 11 events, but that includes all four majors and three WGC tourneys, which means that Scott would need only four other starts to complete his tour of (Euro) duty. And he's halfway there already. Before winning in Qatar, he finished T-23 at the Abu Dhabi Championship the week before.
13. Get a gripSame ol', same ol' for Garcia? It sure looked that way in Qatar, where the player known for having a balky putter was up to his usual ways through two rounds. Eschewing the belly putter in favor of a standard model, Garcia repeatedly switched between conventional and cross-handed grips, totaling 66 putts in his first 36 holes (31 in Round 1; 35 in Round 2). Give credit to Garcia for getting it together on the weekend, though, totaling only 53 putts for the final 36 holes, resulting in a T-7 finish.
14. Houston, hello!In 2004 and 2006, Mickelson continued his practice of preparing for the Masters by competing in the preceding event. And he won the green jacket each time. Last year, when the reconfigured schedule had the PGA Tour traveling to Houston (rather than the AT&T Classic in Atlanta, less than two hours from Augusta National) before the year's first major, Lefty changed up his strategy, eschewing the tune-up tourney. And he finished T-24. So what's the plan this time around? Phil addressed that Wednesday:
- "I'm going to play Houston this year before the Masters. The tournament director came up to me last year and said, 'You know, I just wanted you to know we're really making an effort to have the golf course match up to the Masters. We're going to have the rough the same height, green speed the same, practice facilities to accommodate.' And I thought that was really cool, and it provides a great spot to get ready for the Masters, so I'll end up playing there, which I haven't done in the past."
Mickelson confirmed that he plans to play the Scottish Open in advance of the British but will not compete the week before the U.S. Open, instead using that time to remain at his San Diego-based home and hone his game at Torrey Pines.
15. Boxing DayIt was pretty common knowledge that 20-year-old Aussie wunderkind Jason Day missed the latter part of the 2007 Nationwide Tour season with an injured wrist, but news of how it occurred hadn't leaked until this week, when he casually mentioned, "Maybe there's no more boxing for me in my long career." That's right -- boxing. Don't worry, though, as the Floyd Mayweather of the links reports that he was only working on the heavy bags rather than risking further injury by battling actual opponents.
16. Weekend at Bernie'sThe Weekly 18 is hungry -- so we're rooting against Brad Adamonis this year. Nothing against the Rhode Island native, who toiled for years before finally getting his big chance as a PGA Tour rookie this season, but we have breakfast on the line. Let us explain.
After Adamonis finished T-9 at PGA Tour Q-school to earn full playing privileges for this season, we issued a two-star rating (out of five) in predicting his impact for 2008, writing at the time:
- "Finally broke through for his first career Nationwide Tour victory at the WNB Golf Classic in October, but only one other top-10 suggests he may struggle on the big tour."
The analysis was met by an e-mailed response from Bernie Ravitz of Bernie's Bagels, Deli & Cafe in Coral Springs, Fla., who offered the following:
- "Two weeks before Q-school, I was talking with Brad outside my bagel deli. The man told me exactly what he had to do and went out and kicked tuchas. The kid is playing with a lot of confidence and will not be intimidated.
P.S. If he doesn't finish top-125, you get a free whitefish and nova platter.
So you can understand our consternation when Adamonis opened with a 66 to place solo second through the first round at Torrey. But weekend scores of 80-77 left him at T-57 for the week and left Bernie still on the hook for some free grub.
17. Leaving WestchesterIt was officially announced this week that the PGA Tour would be leaving Westchester Country Club, original New York metro area site of the late-season Barclays playoff event, in favor of Ridgewood Country Club, returning "at least once by 2012," according to a statement released Friday. Rumored for a while, this will mark the first time since 1966 that an event won't be played on the venerable venue. Measuring 6,839 yards, Westchester was regarded as one the tour's few remaining short, tight, old-style courses -- a characteristic David Toms said is a necessity on the schedule. "We've been going there for a long time," Toms told us for an upcoming Hot Seat interview. "There's a plaque out on the 18th fairway from Bob Gilder's double-eagle that you see every year. I just think that we lose a little bit by not going there."
18. Scratching an itchIt's one thing to whittle down your handicap by working on the range for hours. It's quite another altogether when you decide to pack up and move to a faraway country in pursuit of improving. That's exactly what Erik Tammar of California, creator of this comprehensive blog about his own game, is trying to do.
Tammar recently contacted the Weekly 18 and submitted the following:
- My goal is to make the PGA or Nationwide Tour within a year. I realize this is a bold statement coming from a 25-year-old who was a 22-handicapper five months ago, but after working on my game every day, I am now consistently breaking 80. In addition, to further shave my index down and get much needed tournament experience, I am relocating to Thailand on Feb. 7, where stroke and match play events are held six times per week through the International Pattaya Golf Club.
We're reminded of a tale from an old golf book, in which the author travels to a faraway land in an attempt to qualify for the tour. He tells a local caddie about his renown on the golf course, to which the looper responds, "Scratch? Scratch ain't nothing." Here's wishing the best of luck to Tammar, while reminding everyone that even a zero-handicap is, indeed, nothing.
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.