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Tiger looks to break another streak

8/11/2004

HAVEN, Wis. -- Tiger Woods is closing in on a different kind of streak, one that was probably inevitable. If he fails to win the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, it will be 10 straight majors without a victory, matching his drought between the 1997 Masters and 1999 PGA Championship.

Five years ago, when Woods defeated Sergio Garcia at Medinah, he went on a run of seven majors in 11 tries, bringing his total to eight, where he stands now.

At that time, he also was emerging from a year-long effort to re-work his swing, a move he felt was necessary to be more consistent.

For whatever reason, Woods has been undergoing a similar, although not as drastic, transformation over the past two years.

"This is very similar to that period I went through in '98," said Woods, who has gone nearly a year without a stroke play victory but still has won eight times on the PGA Tour since his last major win at the 2002 U.S. Open. "It feels very similar to that, and the things that are starting to come together, it's very exciting. Just like it was back in '98 and '99 where they were starting to gel. That part of it is very similar."

If that is the case, then watch out. Woods went on the kind of run starting with the 1999 PGA that might not ever been seen again. He won four of five major championships, including four in a row.

He also won eight PGA Tour events in 1999, followed by nine in 2000. It was a time when he had the rest of the golf world stunned.

"I hit a lot of fairways, I hit a lot of balls real close and I made a lot of putts," he said. "It's that simple. And I shot some pretty good scores."

But really, there is a bit more to it.

"I got into a great rhythm," he said. "You ask any player out here, there's no substitute for confidence, and I was feeling very confident at the time. I was sitting up there and hitting shots, making a bunch of putts. That was probably the best stretch I've ever had in my life as far as putting-wise.

"You look at the way I putted at Pebble Beach (where he won the 2000 U.S. Open by 15 strokes). I didn't miss one putt inside 10 feet, and the British Open (2000 St. Andrews) was about the same. That's a nice problem to have when you go through a stretch like that."

Can Woods win this week? Why not? He is coming off a 21 under par performance two weeks ago at the Buick Open. The conditions are nowhere similar, but to make that many birdies is a good sign.

Woods has always preferred the "par-is-a-good score" kind of tournament, and this PGA could very well be that way. His driving has improved, and if he can get some putts to drop, it would be no surprise at all to see Woods join Ben Hogan and Gary Player with nine major championships and be halfway to Jack Nicklaus' 18.

"You've just got to keep grinding, keep working at it and give yourself a lot of opportunities," Woods said. "I think that's what Jack was able to do better than any other player in the history of our game. He gave himself a lot of chances. I give myself some chances and just haven't won. It's a matter of keep putting myself up there."

Five Things To Bank On
1. Somebody will go low at the PGA. Despite all the talk about the difficulty of Whistling Straits, there will be a few players who figure it out, perhaps several.

2. Bad weather, however, presents another scenario. There is no telling would could happen if the wind blows. Then anything goes. And the howling will be loud -- not the wind, but that from the players.

3. A player you wouldn't expect will be in contention on Sunday, and might win. This is, after all, the major championship for first-time major winners. Of the past 14 PGAs, 11 have been won by players winning a major for the first time.

4. A European player will not win. Although this is a links-style course, the odds have been against the Europeans at this tournament, where Tommy Armour in 1930 is the last to win.

5. The 18th hole will be a source of controversy. The par-4's length of 500 yards coupled with an enormous green of 18,000 square feet is cause for concern. Depending on the wind, players might have difficulty reaching the green in two shots. And due to the interesting shape of the green, players could be chipping from one area to another.



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.