Two weeks ago I wrote about Tiger Woods' astonishing career. All he's done in the meantime is continue one of the greatest streaks the sport has ever seen. He's now won the last 5 tournaments he's entered, including the British Open and the PGA Championship. It's incredible to think that 2 months ago, in the wake of the death of his father and missing the first cut in a major in his entire career, we were talking about what a slump he was in. Now he's on a roll for the ages. And this weekends Deutsche Bank tournament may have been the best of the run.
The first two rounds, he was hovering right there in or near the lead and appeared to be cruising toward another win. Then came the third round, when Vijay Singh, the only man to be ranked #1 other than Tiger in many years, shot a mind-blowing 61as the rain fell all day long. That catapulted him from a mere 1-under to 11-under. Tiger shot a very good 68 in the third round, but was still 3 shots back going into the final round. They would play in the final pairing together. Tiger is undefeated in his career when he goes into the final round of a tournament with a lead, but how would he respond to having to come from behind?
Do we really need to ask? That 3 shot lead was erased by the 3rd hole, for crying out loud. All he did was hit two eagles in the first 7 holes, along with two birdies, to take a 3 shot lead at the turn. He sunk two more birdies on the back nine for a 63 and a seemingly easy two stroke victory in the tournament. It's hard to believe that just three months ago, the talk of the golf world was Phil Mickelson and his string of major victories, how he had overcome his problems with mental toughness and was finally ready to challenge Tiger for the title of best golfer. Who were we kidding?
All that changed at the US Open, where Mickelson had an historic, Greg Norman-like collapse. Stepping to the tee on the 72nd hold, Mickelson had a one shot lead; he promptly pulled out his driver and careened a shot off the roof of the hospitality tend and landed behind a tree. Still needing just a par to win, rather than pitching out to the fairway he tries to cut a shot around the trees, hits a branch and lands a mere 30 yards away. The third shot ended up in a greenside bunker, the 4th shot cleared the green and landed in the deep rough, and all of a sudden Mickelson is standing in front of the TV cameras saying:
I can't believe that I did that. I'm such an idiot.
That has started a major slide for Mickelson. In his next tournament, he shot 3 over par and finished ni 65th place. At the British Open, he finished 22nd. The tournament after that, he missed the cut. Then he finished 16th at the PGA championship and 54th at Bridgestone. He didn't play this weekend. Meanwhile Tiger, in the first major since the death of his father and coming off nearly a 3 month layoff, didn't even make the cut at the US Open. But that was pretty much the last time he showed any signs of being humanly fallible on a golf course since.
To put this win streak in some historical perspective, consider this: only three men in history have ever won 5 golf tournaments in a row. The other two were Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson. And Tiger has now done it twice, in 2000 and this year. This is now the third time in his 10 years on tour that he's won at least 7 tournaments. To put that in perspective, consider that none of his closest competitors (Singh, Mickelson and Els) have averaged more than 2.1 wins a year in their career. At 30 years old, only 4 players have more career wins than he does (Sam Snead, Jack NIcklaus, Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer) and only Nicklaus has won more majors than he has. We are watching the Babe Ruth of golf here.
Luckily for us, he never seems to be at his absolute best during the Ryder Cup. Another victory for Europe in the offing methinks!
You are slightly incorrect when you say that Tiger has never lost a tournament when he had the lead going into the final round. He has never lost a MAJOR under those circumstances, but he has lost at least one (and I believe two) non-major tournaments when he entered the last day of the tournament with a lead.