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History in the balance, Tiger on cruise control

10/23/2003 - Tiger Woods

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The accomplishment might seem more extraordinary if the person about to do it hadn't already done so much. Tiger Woods is on the verge of capturing his fifth straight PGA Tour money title, and all it elicits is a yawn.

Woods heads into this weekend's Funai Classic at Walt Disney World with a $171,239 lead over Vijay Singh, who is also entered. Singh plans to play next week, while Woods does not. Then it's on to the Tour Championship in Houston to settle the deal.

If Woods prevails, it will be five straight years atop the money list, a feat never before accomplished. Tom Watson was the last to win four in a row, from 1977-80.

Perhaps sensing, however, that a money title can be skewed by simply playing more events, Woods will take it if he can get it but said he gains more satisfaction from having the lowest scoring average, which brings the Vardon Trophy.

"I take more pride in the Vardon than anything else because that shows you've been consistent the entire year,'' Woods said. "The money title can be a little skewed if you play 30 tournaments. You just outplay everybody. I take great pride in the Vardon. The worst I've ever finished since I've been on tour is second. I am very, very proud of that.

"As you know, I play more of a tougher schedule, some of the tougher tournaments. You have to be pretty solid. My scoring average, I take great pride in that. That goes to show you that you fought the entire time, had your bad days but you somehow gutted it out and somehow kept it as low as possible. If you go ahead and dog it, that Vardon is history.''

Woods has an adjusted scoring average of 68.13 (the PGA Tour has a formula for adjusting scores based on difficulty of courses) and has a healthy lead in that category over Vijay Singh.

The money title is not so certain, especially with Singh (currently second) playing more tournaments. But if Woods pulls it off, it would be his fifth money title in six years.

Jack Nicklaus never won more than three in a row, but captured five of six from 1971 to 1976 and won the money title eight times. Watson won five. Arnold Palmer won it four times.

If Woods played more often, however, all of this would be moot. He has done his damage this year in 16 events. Only Ernie Els, who captured the European tour money title this year, is in the top 10 on the PGA Tour and has played less. Mike Weir has played 19 times. Singh, who is trying hard to catch Woods, has played eight more events than Tiger (24).

Woods also will try to tie Byron Nelson's PGA Tour record cut streak at 113 in a row this week. Win or lose, it's been a pretty good year, even if what he does looks ordinary in comparison to the rest of his career.

"I've won almost one-third of my tournaments this year,'' Woods said. "And I looked at this year versus the rest of the guys, and I've made more World Ranking points than the rest of the guys. And people said I've had a terrible year. Granted, I didn't win a major championship this year. That's disappointing. I tried and I had my chances.''

The Question
Will Tiger tie Byron Nelson's record for 113 consecutive cuts made on the PGA Tour by making the cut at the Funai Classic?

If Woods accomplishes the feat, he'll celebrate it without regular caddie Stevie Williams, who was given the week off to race cars in New Zealand. Instead, Tiger will have old friend Bryon Bell on the bag. The last time Bell lugged around Tiger's clubs, Tiger won the 2000 Buick Invitational.

Five Things To Watch
1. The Funai Classic, commonly referred to as Disney, is typically a low-stress, sleepy event on the fall calendar. But this year, the top four money winners on the PGA Tour are entered.

2. Fred Couples has dropped to 31st on the money list and is playing this week in order to try and improve his position and qualify for the season-ending Tour Championship, which invites the top 30.

3. Sweden's Per-Ulrik Johansson is now on the hot seat, occupying the 125th and final spot on the money list. There's just two events left for players to make up ground and earn playing privileges for 2004.

4. The Charles Schwab Cup Championship is the Champions Tour's season-ending event for the top 30 money winners in Sonoma, Calif. Money leader Tom Watson is the defending champ.

5. The Nationwide Tour's Miccosukee Championship in Miami is the last full-field event of the season. The top 55 money winners qualify for next week's season-ending Nationwide Tour Championship.

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.