Originally created 03/17/04

Tiger will face tough task at Bay Hill



ORLANDO, Fla. - Duke was in position to win its sixth consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament basketball title on Sunday before an upstart Maryland team stood up to squash a dynasty.

In a different venue and a different sport, Tiger Woods is primed to win his fifth consecutive Bay Hill Invitational this week. Fortunately for Stanford product Woods, former Terrapin Fred Funk is sitting this event out.

Will someone else stand up to Woods' reign?

"I don't want to think about Tiger winning five," said Ernie Els, the world's No. 3 player, of another potential historical landmark for Woods. "I want to win."

Woods has his work cut out for himself at Bay Hill, with a field that includes seven of the top 11 players in the world, 12 of the top 18 and 35 of the top 50. Yet Woods thrives in short-field, high-profile invitational events that feature tough courses and marquee challengers. Of his 40 PGA Tour victories, 22 have come in invitationals such as the Masters Tournament, the World Golf Championships, Memorial, Mercedes, Tour Championship and Bay Hill.

His drive for five has certainly sparked interest in the masses.

"I get asked about it more from (media), friends, people in the grocery store," he said, tossing out this sample dialogue:

"Good luck on ... what number is this?"

"I'm going for five."

"Oh! Good luck."

Woods' Bay Hill four-peat is already in the rarest of company. Only Tom Morris Jr. (British Open 1968-72), Walter Hagen (PGA Championship 1924-27) and Gene Sarazen (Miami Open 1926-30) have ever been credited with winning four consecutive tournaments on major tours. On the women's side, Laura Davies (Standard Register Ping 1994-97) and Karrie Webb (Australian Ladies Masters 1998-2001) are the only four-repeaters.

Nobody has ever won five straight - and nobody likes doing things nobody else has done more than Tiger. But Woods wouldn't rate his Bay Hill streak with his four consecutive majors or his three straight U.S. Junior and U.S. Amateurs titles.

"Where would I rank it?" he said. "Definitely up there but obviously it can't rank anywhere near the majors."

Els, the only international player ever to win Bay Hill (1998), admits that Woods' having the opportunity to win five straight is impressive considering no male golfer has had the chance in nearly 75 years.

"It's a hell of an achievement, especially in modern-day golf," Els said. "He's set so many records already, and this will definitely be another one that will stand, if he does it, for a very long time. You know, he's an amazing player."

Woods has certainly been amazing at Bay Hill. He's won by four strokes twice (2000 and '02) and last year ran away to an 11-stroke victory despite nasty rains Sunday and a stomach virus that had him visiting more portable toilets than he hit greens in regulation.

The only time he had to sweat was in 2001 when he missed the out-of-bounds stakes on No. 16 by inches and birdied the final hole after hitting a young woman to stay in bounds off the tee. That allowed him to beat Phil Mickelson by one shot.

"That's luck," Woods said. "I had lucky breaks. In order to have success for a long period of time, you're going to have to have those."

Woods makes his own luck, and with drenching rains softening Bay Hill's impossibly firm greens, he made need more this week.

Before Tuesday's pro-am was washed out, however, Team Tiger was 6-under through nine holes. But Team Davis Love III was 8-under through seven.

The dynastic demise of Duke - the Stanford of the East - should be a lesson to Woods. Instead of "Beware the Turtle," Woods might want to be wary of a Tar Heel.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.