Forget Jordan, Tiger Is the One in Rarified Air

By Tony Kornheiser
Tuesday, September 5, 2006

I know this is called Monday Night Diary. And I know this is supposed to be about the football season and my adventures in it, but yesterday was the one Monday until January that I don't have a game and it allowed me to pay attention to the sports I used to pay attention to. If I didn't talk about Tiger Woods today, I'd be an utter moron.

What Tiger Woods is doing in golf is unbelievable. By winning in suburban Boston yesterday, Tiger has won five tournaments in a row. Ben Hogan once won six in a row and, more incredibly, Byron Nelson once won 11 in a row, a mark that seems utterly unapproachable, like Cy Young's 511 victories. Forgive me, because I don't mean to diminish Nelson's 11 or Hogan's six, but they didn't face anywhere near the talent and depth of talent that Tiger faces. You just can't win five tournaments in a row these days unless you're Superman. And Tiger is. The red shirt is Tiger's red cape.

Woods's dad, Earl, died in May. In Tiger's first tournament after that, the U.S. Open at Winged Foot, he missed the cut. It was the first cut he ever missed in a major as a pro and it was understandable, given the emotional burden he carried. But since then, Tiger has been the most intimidating golfer the sport has seen in decades, since Jack Nicklaus's prime. After finishing second in the Western Open, he rattled off five wins in a row, including two majors, the British Open and the PGA, where the strongest fields in the world assemble. In winning yesterday, Tiger started the round three strokes behind Vijay Singh, who is hardly a bucket of slop as a player, and, playing him eye to eye, ended up making up five strokes on him and beating him by two with a final-round 63!

You can give Roger Federer all the credit in the world in tennis, but most tournaments Federer plays in have lackluster fields until the quarterfinals. And in the majors, where all the great players compete, Federer only has to win seven matches and only has to beat the person in front of him. In golf, you have to beat everybody to win. Tournament after tournament after tournament, Tiger has to beat the very best players.

To do this five tournaments in a row is staggering, even by Tiger Woods's standards. We've been lucky in the last few years to have seen Michael Jordan at his best and Roger Clemens at his best and Barry Bonds at his best (steroids or not) and John Elway, Emmitt Smith and Brett Favre at their best. To be fair, only Jordan dominated his sport like Tiger is dominating his. And, come on, Jordan had four guys on the court helping him.

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