Originally created 02/09/00

Woods on a streak toward history



PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- That Tiger Woods has won six straight PGA Tour events is hard enough to believe. No one has won more than three in a row since the year Dwight Eisenhower moved into the White House.

But while Woods streaks toward history, the 24-year-old is quickly carving out a niche as perhaps the most exciting player golf has ever seen.

His amazing comeback Monday at storied Pebble Beach was a composite of the best traits belonging to the best players -- the skill of Ben Hogan, the thrill of Arnold Palmer, the will of Jack Nicklaus.

"I'm just trying to make golf shots and give myself a chance to win," Woods said Monday after his victory in the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, where he was seven strokes behind with seven holes to play.

"When you're coming down the stretch in a tournament and everything is on the line, you forget what you have done -- how bad you have played or how good you have played," he said. "What really counts is the moment. It's right now. That's what you focus on."

The focus now shifts to another of the game's greats, Byron Nelson, and a record that some consider even more out of reach than Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak or the Los Angeles Lakers' 33-game winning streak.

Nelson won 11 straight tournaments in 1945, a time when the field was depleted because of World War II and when golf didn't have nearly the number of talented players it does now.

Hogan won six in a row in 1948, and five in a row in 1953, including the British Open. Since then, no one has gone longer than three straight tournaments without getting beaten.

"It's going to take somebody to stuff it in his face a couple of times coming down the stretch to knock him off," Davis Love III said on the eve of Pebble Beach.

Good luck.

The latest to try was Matt Gogel, a 28-year-old rookie who played the first 10 holes in 5-under to build a seven-shot lead.

Right about the time everyone was willing to give up on Woods, he rocked Pebble Beach as only he can. On the 15th hole, Woods hit a wedge from 97 yards away that landed four feet right of the flag and spun back into the hole for an eagle.

On the next hole, he came within an inch of another eagle from the fairway. On the 17th, he nearly chipped in from near the same spot where Tom Watson holed a chip to win the 1982 U.S. Open. And Woods closed his final-round 64 with a birdie on the 18th.

Gogel, meanwhile, made bogeys on the 11th and 12th holes, another one on No. 16 and couldn't muster a birdie on the 18th to force a playoff.

"I don't know about destiny," Gogel said. "He's just damned good."

Woods punched the air with one of his famous uppercuts when he made the eagle on the 15th, a signature shot in a vintage charge.

"It was one of those things where you're trying to get it close and leave yourself a putt at birdie," he said. "It just happened to go in."

It always seems to work out that way for him.

In a playoff against Tom Lehman in the 1997 Mercedes Championship, his 7-iron hit the cup on the first extra hole and left him a tap-in for victory. In the Memorial Tournament last year, Woods was in a fight with Vijay Singh in the final round and faced a certain bogey -- or worse -- until he holed a chip from thick rough.

And in his first appearance in the Phoenix Open three years ago, a tournament infamous for its football-like crowd around the par-3 16th, Woods gave them something to celebrate with a hole-in-one.

He didn't just become the youngest Masters champion in 1997 -- he did it with a record score to win by the largest margin tournament history.

"His ability to make it happen when it has to happen is consistent," Nicklaus said recently. "That's what makes champions. I marvel watching him play."

Woods' sixth straight victory was even more exciting than No. 5. In that one, he finished eagle-birdie-birdie to beat two-time U.S. Open champion Ernie Els on the second playoff hole in Hawaii to win the Mercedes Championship.

"I think he's a legend in the making," Els said. "He's 24. He's probably going to be bigger than Elvis when he gets into his 40s."

Woods has tried to play down talk of the streak because it takes place over two years, and because he played a European tour event late last year and tied for sixth. But No. 6 got his attention.

"It's definitely more intriguing, no doubt about that," he said.

The next stop in pursuit of Nelson comes Thursday in the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla, Calif.

Woods is the defending champion in the Buick. A year ago, he had rounds of 62-65 on the weekend, and broke a tie on the last hole with an eagle.

Sound familiar?



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