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We still haven't seen the best of Tiger

8/22/2006 - Golf

As Yogi Berra would say, "It's déjà vu all over again."

Are you starting to
get the feeling that we are about to see a run of golf from Tiger Woods as
remarkable as the effort he put forth from the 1999 PGA Championship at
Medinah through the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage? All he did during that
streak was win seven of the 11 majors played and capture a remarkable 22 PGA
Tour tournament titles.


His victory Sunday at the PGA Championship -- played,
coincidentally, at Medinah -- coupled with his triumph last month at the
British Open were remarkable for their ease, and if I were a PGA Tour player
I'd be very much concerned. We might be on the verge of seeing the best yet
from Tiger Woods. And that's a scary thought. What we've seen up to now has
been pretty remarkable.

After the 2000 season -- arguably the best in the history of the game -- it
seemed quite reasonable to speculate that we had seen Tiger's career year.
All he did was win nine PGA Tour events and become only the second man in
history to win three professional majors in the same season -- Ben Hogan
being the other in 1953. Woods was only 23 when he did that, yet it was
still reasonable to think that we had seen his best. How could anyone do
better? That question is starting to be answered.

When Earl Woods died in May, there was much speculation as to how the
father's passing would affect the son. Then when Woods missed the cut at the
U.S. Open at Winged Foot -- the first time he had failed to qualify for the
weekend in a major championship as a professional -- in his first tournament
back after a nine-week break -- it seemed fair to speculate that he might have
lost not just his father but his competitive desire.

What's clear now is
that the exact opposite has happened. The fire burns hotter in the man's
belly than it ever has. He wants to win. He lives to win.

After getting his competitive legs back beneath him, Woods finished second
at the Cialis Western Open and now has won the British Open, the Buick Open
and, on Sunday, the PGA Championship for his 51st career PGA Tour title.
Woods has now won 12 professional majors, breaking a tie with Walter Hagen
behind Jack Nicklaus' record of 18.

Tiger has four green jackets from the
Masters, three silver claret jugs from the British Open, three Wanamaker
trophies that go to the PGA Championship winner and two U.S. Open titles.
The added icing to the cake is the three U.S. Amateurs he has also won.

Just two months ago the talk was about the possibility of a MickelSlam. Phil
had won the 2005 PGA and this year's Masters. That dream got slammed with a
bad swing off the 72nd tee at the U.S. Open and an even worse decision in
his shot selection on his next play. That double bogey represented the
biggest difference between Woods and Mickelson -- the two best players of
their generation.

Tiger might make some physical mistakes on the golf course,
but he rarely makes a mental one. Perhaps the scariest message any PGA Tour
player should glean from the last four events Woods has played is that his
course management skills have risen to a level occupied only by Hogan and
Nicklaus.

At Royal Liverpool, when Woods won the British Open last month, he hit
driver off the tee only once. He didn't reach for the big stick a whole lot
more often than that at Medinah. Tiger's realization that he can drive with
a 3-wood, 5-wood or 3-iron and still handily beat the rest of the field is a
frightening one indeed.

Golf, especially major championships, is all about
learning how to downshift. It's about being under control. No one currently
playing does that better than Woods and, by the way, when he has to hit the
miracle shot he has a seemingly endless reservoir from which to draw upon.

Woods' effort at Medinah was remarkable in a variety of ways. He made only
three bogeys the entire week, tying the record for a major championship he
set at the 2000 British Open -- and his 18-under-par total at Medinah was
just one stroke off the record he set at St. Andrews, also in 2000. His
five-stroke victory over Shaun Micheel was even easier than the score
indicated. If you wanted to latch onto some shots that demonstrate the
difference between Woods and everyone else, there are three to start with -­
all in Saturday's third round.

The key to the course-record tying 65 he shot that day was likely the
30-foot putt he made on No. 1 to save par. Who makes more long par-saving
putts than Woods? No one. Move ahead now to the drive he hit
on No. 5, a par-5 on which he let his driver get into the action. Woods
simply killed it and had a 6-iron left in. And there was the approach on No.
15 from out of a divot that landed 4 feet past the hole and fell to the
green like a feather, barely moving once it touched the putting surface.

The putt symbolizes his competitive fire, the drive his awesome power and
the shot out of the bunker his imagination and shot-making ability. All of
that pure athletic ability is framed by a desire and an intelligence few in
the game have ever known.

What we are seeing now is the maturation of Tiger
Woods' game from awesomely talented young man to amazingly controlled adult.
He's swinging better than ever, and he's thinking better than ever.

Fasten
your seat belts: The best is yet to come.

Ron Sirak is the executive editor of Golf World magazine.