Originally created 08/14/04

Tiger's a 'cut' above the rest



Tiger Woods was going down. Every streak that has defined his greatness was heading back to Chapter Zero. No more cut streak. No more denying his slump. Potentially no more No. 1 ranking come Monday.

Whistling Straits might not be the lion everyone thought it would be, but it was taking out a Tiger.

Stick a fork in ... um ... uh ... er ...

This just in. Seemingly buried two shots below the cut line, Tiger Woods birdied three of his last six holes to extend his weekend plans for the PGA Championship and his streak of consecutive cuts made to 129 and counting. The young man once dubbed by his father as the new Messiah made like Lazarus and rose from the place every golf scribe had already planted him.

"I saw a lot of you media guys coming out on the last few holes and I just wanted to ruin your day," Woods said after his gut-check 69 to offset his opening 75 and left him level par at the turn off the season's final major.

Woods certainly did ruin all of the plans of every hack that showed up at Whistling Straits. All of the research time gathering numbers and trivia to heave at the man as headed for the airport on a Friday for the first time since the Canadian Open in 1997.

But Woods did it again, just as he did at the 2003 Masters Tournament when he got up and down out of a bunker on the ninth hole to survive on the number. Just as he did at this year's Players Championship when he recovered from an opening

75. Just as he did at the Western Open in June when he birdied two late to slip over the cut line.

Just as he's done in 16 close calls during one of the most impressive streaks in golf history.

Of all of the elements that Woods has lost to some degree in the past two years, he has never lost his remarkable ability to grind. Considering all the attributes that have made him the No. 1 player in the world for 261 consecutive weeks, that might be his greatest trademark. With his back to the wall, there's nobody tougher.

"I take pride in how I was playing," said Woods. "I tee it up with the intent of giving it everything I've got. I don't leave anything on the golf course. I try as hard as I can. I've always done that. I think that's the one thing I'm most proud of is that I've never bagged it. I've never dogged it."

You can say whatever you want about Woods, but you can't deny him that. He might be the best grinder in the game. When other top players might occasionally be questioned for their heart on Fridays when a win seems out of the cards.

Never Tiger.

It sure looked the end on Friday, however. In spite of a pair of birdies out of the chute to signal his typical magic, Woods looked lost thereafter. He drove it into the only pond on the property to spark back-to-back bogeys that threw him right back in catch-up mode.

"I worked my butt off today," he said.

Naturally everybody started scrambling for comparisons to eulogize one of sports' most impressive streaks when it seemed so certainly doomed. Cal Ripken Jr.'s 2,632 consecutive games played. Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak. Wayne Gretzky's 51-game scoring streak.

Woods' 128 would certainly rate with the best.

"It's phenomenal," said Charles Howell of a run that dates back to the 1998 Pebble Beach tournament when Woods skipped the final round that was delayed six months due to rain. "Of all the accomplishment's he's made, it's just very hard to fathom that he's made that many cuts in a row."

Yep, if Woods went home early this week we might even see the end of his 261 consecutive weeks at No. 1. Both Vijay Singh and Ernie Els are taking aim at that.

Asked which streak mattered more to him, Woods didn't hesitate.

"The cut streak," he said. "Who cares about the No. 1 ranking? ... Not too many people have been able to play as consistent as I have for a longer period of time."

Woods reinforced a certain measure of respect on Friday.

Why do we ever doubt hi?

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