His story could be history

8/10/2005 - Tiger Woods

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. -- The golf season ends after this week, at least for the tournaments of historical context. As Davis Love III said earlier this year, "They're not going to remember who won Pebble after the Masters, but if you win the Masters they'll remember you forever."

Just as a reminder, Phil Mickelson won Pebble. He's also won two other tournaments in 2005, but to hear his news conference on Tuesday at Baltusrol, and every other news conference at Baltusrol leading up to the 87th PGA Championship, you'd think this was a one-man tournament.

Tiger Woods may not be as big as Tony Soprano in New Jersey, but you don't want to mess with him in the major championships. His record this year is 1-2-1. That's all you need to know. One. Two. One. That's a first at the Masters, a second at the U.S. Open and a first at the British Open.

The rest of the Big Five?


Phil is 0-for-3. Retief Goosen is 0-for-3. Ernie Els is 0-for-3 (and out the rest of the season). And Vijay Singh is 0-for-3.

You read it here first after the British Open. Now you see it everywhere. The Big Five is the Big One.

It's 2000 all over again, the Greatest Season Ever, the year where Tiger raised the bar and everybody clanked their heads trying to vault to those heights. But in Tiger's mind it's not 2000. It's 2005, and with this new swing he wants to look beyond 2000 to new levels.

"I don't want to go back to 2000," Woods said Tuesday. "I want to become better than that. And that's why I'm making the changes, you know, to become better. Not to become worse; become better. I'm very pleased."

Now the stories are popping up that Tiger's dominance is bad for the game ... that he'll blow by Jack Nicklaus' 18 professional majors. It's all so cyclical.

But we're a long way from PGA president Roger Warren presenting the Wanamaker Trophy to Mr. Woods for the third time, and Tiger ending the year with his 11th career major and a 1-2-1-1 record that would have to be considered greater than '00.

First, Baltusrol is set up for the long-ball driver, but the greens are soft so the average-length hitters will be able to stop their 4-irons -- the same way Mike Weir did at soggy Augusta National in 2003. Second, Woods can't overpower Baltusrol the way he did Augusta, Pinehurst and Pebble Beach. On the practice ground Tuesday morning he was working on a punch-cut drive, a derivative of his patented old stinger. So you won't see the free-swinging Woods. You'll see a guy trying to fit shots into landing areas that everybody in the field wants to play from. Third, and most important as it relates to Woods -- and every player in the field -- is the putting factor.

While it's easy to say that Tiger's bogeys on the 70th and 71st holes at Pinehurst cost him the U.S. Open, the truth is Tiger's putting over four days cost him the U.S. Open. Overall this year he ranks 12th on tour, but at Pinehurst he was last in the field, taking 15 more putts than Michael Campbell. "My putting is just as good, but it's been sporadic this year, which is interesting," Woods said. "I normally don't putt that way. I've usually been a very consistent putter over the years. This year is one of those weird years where I either putt great or I don't putt well at all."

There's no telling what kind of week it's going to be in that regard until Woods gets on the golf course Thursday morning and finds out if he's seeing lines and putting to the right speed. The same goes for the biggest player threat Woods faces this week, Vijay Singh. Ranking just behind Tiger in putting at Pinehurst -- 81st out of 81 players to make the cut -- was Singh. Finishing four strokes ahead of Tiger two weeks ago at the Buick Open, after his putter awoke from its nap, was Singh. It's all about putting, but it's also all about presence.

Vijay sent a message in Detroit that Woods does not intimidate him -- but we knew that already. What we don't know is if Vijay can handle Tiger in a major. That's the crucible for Singh, who smartly plays down the rivalry thing and focuses on the golf.

In every ball-striking category, he matches up well with Woods. He may not have the creativity, but he's underrated in the short game department and hits more greens in regulation. In an overall driving contest, Woods may be longer, but Vijay is less prone to the foul ball. If the stroke he took to Warwick Hills stays with him, then the defending champion will be tough to beat. Tiger knows that better than anybody.

"I'm not the only one [who's played well in the majors]," Woods said. "Vijay's done all right, you know, three Top 10s. It's not like he's been out of it."

Being overlooked this week will help Singh. Not that it'll make him putt any better at Baltusrol, but the Fijian doesn't think he got enough respect for the nine wins last season -- which might be true had he not won the PGA Championship.

It goes back to the Davis Love point. They don't remember who won Pebble, Houston, New Orleans, Detroit, the 84 Lumber, Boston, Canada and Tampa. But they do remember who won at Whistling Straits.

Oh, yeah, the other guy to win a major in 2000?

Think about it.

You'll get it.

Tim Rosaforte is a senior writer for Golf World magazine