June 25, 2007

Assessing Tiger's win streak

At times my very own media makes me cringe, and occasionally out loud. By the way, nothing clears the head like an out-loud cringe. The cringe generally occurs each time a member of our lodge tries to discuss high finance in print—salary caps, players' contracts, etc.—when, of course, there's never been a sportswriter in the annals of journalism who has ever known anything about money, other than how to spend it or get robbed of it. This is something we have in common with most athletes.

Then there are those "social-conscious" members of the media who can do it to me when they attempt to right the wrongs of history. Usually, all I can say about one of their sermons is, "Thanks, I needed that." Today, however, I'm forced to bring up a third branch of the media brethren, the ones who won't take no for an answer.

Their shouts and musings still ring in my ears from their reaction to the compelling but non-record-tieing "win streak" of Tiger Woods.

As exciting as it was back in February when Tiger somewhat miraculously captured the Crosby, or what-ever it's called now, coming from seven strokes behind over the last seven holes, it did not represent his sixth victory in a row. Not to anyone with good sense.

But, unfortunately, there were dozens in the media around the country who were so eager to have a win streak, they were obviously willing to trade all their best similes to get one. So, with the help of the PGA Tour's record-twisters and even more help from CBS-TV's clueless shills, they invented one and foisted it off on the public. As the old Chinese proverb goes: "Win streaks make heap more readers." Or maybe it's Cherokee.

Anyway, these media lads screamed and similed and met-aphored that it was, too, six in a row, by golly, and Tiger's feat ranked up there beside Ben Hogan's six in a row in '48, and what's more, Byron Nelson's 11 in a row in '45 had better watch out.

Now it needs to be stated for the record right here that this bureau takes a back seat to nobody in its respect for the ability of Tiger Woods. He is the only locomotive in pro golf today. His awesome talents are way up there, and everybody else's talents, frankly, are way down here. After Jack Nicklaus, Hogan, Nelson for a brief period, and Bobby Jones, Tiger is the only other modern player who can win by mere intimidation, who can still grab a trophy without playing his best. And when he plays his best, it's no contest.

But, please. Tiger did not win six tournaments in a row back during the media madness. He did win four in a row, and he did win seven out of nine 72-hole events before he was "unstreaked" at San Diego. All in all, that was impressive enough for most of us, but then my very own media preposterously decided to improve on it.

Woods won six consecutive "official" PGA Tour events, they noted ecstatically. All that stuff in the middle, like finishing sixth in the Johnnie Walker Classic in Taiwan, which Michael Campbell won, like winning the World Cup in Malaysia, and like finishing 10th in the Williams World Challenge in Scottsdale, which Tom Lehman won—forget it. Didn't exist.

Well, write down Tiger's finishes on paper and here's what you get: win, win, win, win, LOSE, win, LOSE, win, win. Call me silly, but I swear that looks like a four-game win streak, a one-game win streak, and a two-game win streak. And it loses some tone when you compare it to Hogan's six straight solid victories in '48, which started with the U.S. Open—a major, no less—and were all in the same calendar year, not that such a thing matters to the streak-lovers of today.

When a couple media brethren called to ask me—the grizzled historian, the curator of Hogan stats—how I felt about Tiger tieing Ben's streak of six wins in a row, I said for posterity: "I think you should pour a six-pack of asterisks on it."

What Tiger's four in a row did do was tie the achievement of three others in the past: Byron, Ben and Jackie Burke Jr. Nelson won the last two tournaments in which he played in '45, in Seattle and Forth Worth, and the first two of '46, in L.A. and San Francisco. Hogan in '46 consecutively won the Winnipeg Open, the PGA Championship, the Golden State Open in L.A., and the Dallas Open. It was in '52 that Burke won the Texas Open, Houston Open, Baton Rouge Open and St. Petersburg Open in succession.

There are other items of interest, but as we say today: So many win streaks, so little time.