Great expectations await Woods in 2008
The New England Patriots have the country's sports fans swooning in PerfectoMania. It's a feeling many don't want to live without after the Super Bowl, and so it's tempting to look at the likes of Tom Brady, Randy Moss, Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel, then deduce, "They're good, but Tiger Woods is better. So if they can be perfect, Tiger Woods can be perfect-er."Call it the Transitive Property of Perfection. After Woods mowed down the field at last week's Buick Invitational, taking the title by an eight-stroke margin for a fourth straight time, much of the attention was not on what he accomplished, but what he could accomplish this year. One of the prevailing ideas was a notion entirely unfamiliar to golf's storied history. Through one tournament start so far in 2008, there are already rumblings that the game's top player could sweep the season, securing an unprecedented undefeated campaign. There are no 1972 Miami Dolphins in golf, no former players goading Woods with catcalls of, "Don't call me when you're in my town. Call me when you're on my block and I see you next door moving your furniture in." The closest we've seen to PGA Tour perfection was Byron Nelson's 18-win season of 1945 (during which he won 11 straight) or maybe Ben Hogan's three-major triumph of 1953 (he only failed to win the PGA Championship because it overlapped with the British Open).
For as dominant as Woods has been in the 11-plus years since turning professional, he has never flirted with faultlessness. Hasn't even come close, really. During his transcendent season of 2000, he won nine times but still lost on 11 other occasions. In fact, only once has Woods succeeded more than he's been defeated, winning eight of 15 events two years ago. Historically, Woods converts 37.3 percent of all appearances into victories; that is by far the highest number in tour history, but still leaves a failure rate of 62.7 percent.So, why all the discourse about perfection now? Well, Woods is indirectly leading the charge. Less than a month ago, he proclaimed the Grand Slam -- never before achieved during the Modern Era -- to be "easily within reach." And when questioned about the state of his game following the Buick victory, he explained that the past six months -- during which he's won five of six official PGA Tour starts -- have included the best golf of his career. "I'm starting to get better," said Woods, whose T-2 at last year's Deutsche Bank Championship is the only blemish on his record since August. "I'm hitting shots that I never could hit before, even in 2000. People think, yeah, you played great, but I made everything. I'm actually hitting the ball better now than I did during that stretch." History's preeminent golfer at the peak of his profession is enough to fuel speculation that Woods will topple all standing single-season records. And why not? A glance at the schedule shows he will likely play 16-18 PGA Tour events this year. Of those, he's only failed to win his own AT&T National (which debuted last year) and The Barclays, a FedEx Cup playoff tourney which he's eschewed each year since 2001. There are only four courses, at most, Woods will see (Congressional CC, Royal Birkdale GC, Bellerive CC and, potentially, Ridgewood CC) on which he has yet to earn a professional victory. All of which has brought us to a point where expectations may actually exceed reality. Woods is just four years removed from his most unflattering statistical season, when he nabbed only the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship title while undergoing major swing renovations. Now, anything less than his version of Patriots prowess will be considered by many to be a major disappointment. Such a twist will be nothing new to Woods, who has previously seen the presumption of others surpass his achievements, often in major championships. "I've had that happen before," he said last week. "Won two majors in a row and people say, 'What's wrong with you?' It is what it is." Brady's Bunch will strive for unparalleled perfection at Super Bowl XLII on Sunday. Whether they reach that pinnacle or not, all eyes will quickly turn toward Woods' quest toward a similar goal. And it will only take a few more victories from the No. 1-ranked player for PerfectoMania to sweep the nation once again. Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com
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