Originally created 11/09/99

Woods won't stop working to improve



SOTOGRANDE, Spain -- Tiger Woods broke into a wide grin when asked how he could possibly top this year -- a major championship, eight titles on the tour, over $6 million in winnings and a Ryder Cup victory for good measure.

Then he turned serious.

"I can promise you, I will continue to work," he said.

While the rest of the PGA Tour goes home for the winter to digest Woods' latest win of the just-concluded season, he will continue with three tournaments in the Pacific that could determine how long he can keep his amazing streak alive.

The 23-year-old won his fourth consecutive tournament Sunday in the American Express Championship, the most since Ben Hogan won four straight in 1953.

After a clinic Monday at Valderrama Golf Club, Woods was off to Taiwan to defend his title in the Johnnie Walker Classic. After that, he heads to Malaysia to play in the World Cup with Mark O'Meara. The week after, he winds his way to Hawaii for the PGA Grand Slam of Golf.

As far as consecutive victories on the PGA Tour, he won't be able to build on that until the Mercedes Championship at the start of next year.

For a player who became golf's first $6 million man after winning eight times this year -- the most since Johnny Miller won eight, but no majors, in 1974 -- Woods was relatively subdued after his playoff victory over Miguel Angel Jimenez at Valderrama.

One reason for that is his work is not done -- and not just the three tournaments in the next three weeks.

He is a work in progress. The scary thing is, the work is just beginning.

Where will that lead? The possibilities are endless. Woods has won eight out of his 11 tournaments, including a victory against a world-class field in Germany in May. Since then, his worst finish was in the Sprint International, a tie for 37th, the week after winning the PGA Championship.

"To play week after week, and then to win on top of that, it is draining," he said. "It was a great way to end the year. And hopefully, next year I'll play the same type of golf and we'll see about the number of victories, but see if I can continue to improve."

Woods' year has been compared to the best of all time. Most golf experts consider Bobby Jones' 1930 Grand Slam, Byron Nelson's 18 wins, including a record 11 in a row, in 1945 and Hogan's three major victories in 1953 as the greatest seasons in golf history.

Woods' victory Sunday pushed his career PGA Tour earnings to $11,315,128, fifth all time and just under $1.2 million behind No. 1 Greg Norman. Woods' $6.6 million in earning this season was just under the combined PGA Tour career earnings of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer ($7.6 million).

Woods' turning point came in May, the week before the Byron Nelson Classic, when all the refinements he has made in his swing the past 18 months finally started to make sense.

Since then, his highest round has been a 74 -- and that includes the U.S. Open and British Open. Twenty-three of his 40 rounds have been in the 60s. That's a far cry from his spring, when he went 15 consecutive rounds without breaking 70.

"It was just a matter of time," he said. "I had to be patient and work at my own game so that when it came round, I could start winning tournaments. When it came together, I felt I could start winning."

The final round of the first American Express Championship will be remembered for Woods making triple bogey on No. 17, where he hit shots like Hogan and got a result like Jean Van de Velde.

Leading by one stroke, his ball slithered off the green and into the water, and Woods was somewhat fortunate to walk off the green with an 8. Even more fortunate for him was that Jimenez fell to pieces twice on the 18th hole.

Still, Sunday's finish at Valderrama may have overshadowed the real reason why Woods is on golf's best streak in 46 years.

Along with his tremendous talent, Woods has a wide selection of shots and good sense when to use them. That means he will be a factor in just about every tournament he plays, and there has been proof of that the past six months.

He struck a 9-iron all of 100 yards on the 17th. True, he hitting was into the wind and the ball eventually wound up in the water, but Woods' took two extra clubs to take spin off the ball and try to keep it on the green. Except for a tricked-up green, the shot would have been perfect.

He hit a 6-iron from 156 yards -- not exactly the macho distance he can pound his middle irons, but a smart shot into a severe crosswind on the 14th that set up another birdie. He knocked down a 3-wood off the 10th tee into more crosswinds for a perfect angle into the green, yet another birdie.

He also went high and long, an 8-iron from 196 yards on the par-3 12th for an 8-foot birdie.

How good was Woods on Sunday? Until he caught a couple of bad breaks, he was headed for a 7-under 64. That would have been more than 11 strokes better than the rest of the field.

"Mind boggling," Jim Furyk said.

"You can't believe how good that round is," Lee Westwood added.

Nick Price, who played behind Woods on Sunday, said a 64 at Valderrama under those conditions would have been one of the greatest rounds ever played.

Even Woods, a harsh critic of himself, seems genuinely pleased.

"It does make it more satisfying because I played a great round of golf today," he said.

Whether he can keep it up, or for how long, could determine whether anyone else has a chance.

Golf's greatest years

Tiger Woods, 1999, 8 wins, 1 major, 69.56 scoring average

Johnny Miller, 1974, 8 wins, 0 majors, 70.10

Jack Nicklaus, 1973, 7 wins, 1 major, 69.81

Jack Nicklaus, 1972, 7 wins, 2 majors, 70.23

Arnold Palmer, 1963, 7 wins, 0 majors, 70.63

Arnold Palmer, 1962, 7 wins, 2 majors, 70.27

Arnold Palmer, 1960, 7 wins, 2 majors, 70.27

Ben Hogan, 1953, 5 wins, 3 majors, 70.3

Sam Snead, 1950, 11 wins, 0 majors, 69.23

Ben Hogan, 1948, 10 wins, 2 majors, 69.30

Ben Hogan, 1946, 13 wins, 1 major, NA

Byron Nelson, 1945, 18 wins, 1 major*, 68.33

Byron Nelson, 1944, 8 wins, 0 majors*, NA

Sam Snead, 1938, 8 wins, 0 majors, NA

Paul Runyan, 1933, 9 wins, 0 majors, NA

Gene Sarazen, 1930, 8 wins, 0 majors, NA

Bobby Jones, 1930, 6 wins, 4 majors, 71.3**

Horton Smith, 1929, 8 wins, 0 majors, NA

* -- No Masters, U.S. or British Opens because of World War II

** -- Won Grand Slam, which then consisted of U.S. and British Opens and U.S. and British Amateurs; scoring average does not include match play in the Walker Cup, British Amateur or U.S. Amateur.

Above the rest

A capsulized look Tiger Woods' 1999 season:

21 events, 16 top 10s, 8 wins (1 major, PGA), 69.56 scoring average

Earnings: $6.6 million

Driving distance: 293.1 yards, third, John Daly (305.6)

Scoring: 68.43 adjusted69.56 actual, first

Birdie average: 4.46 per round, first

Greens in regulation: 71.4 percent, first

Total driving: first

Cuts made: 39 straight, first (21 in 1999). Record: 113 Byron Nelson during 1940s

All-around: 120 points, first, beat second-place Phil Mickelson by 148 points

Wins: 8, first. Record: 18, Byron Nelson, 1945.

Consecutive wins: 4. Most since Ben Hogan in 1953. Record: 11, Byron Nelson, 1945.