We still haven't seen the best of Tiger

Updated: August 22, 2006, 7:07 PM ET
By Ron Sirak | GolfDigest.com

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.

It's A Jungle Out There:
Tiger's pursuit of the Golden Bear
 Tiger Woods
 Jack Nicklaus
Tiger's victory at the PGA on Sunday came in Woods' 40th major as a professional. He now has 12 major championships, with no one left to pass before Jack Nicklaus at 18. Here is how the two compare after 40 majors as a professional.
Jack Tiger
Wins 9 12
Runner-ups 8 2
Top-3s 23 17
Missed Cuts 3 1
Score to par +30 -119
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.

Ron Sirak is the executive editor of Golf World magazine.