There are 78 players at this World Golf Championship, and one guy playing out of this world.
Tiger Woods is winning at a rate not seen in more than a half-century. Bay Hill was his sixth straight victory around the world among official tournaments, and he is the three-time defending champion this week at the CA Championship.
“He inhales so many wins that there’s not much breathing room for the rest of us,” Stewart Cink said.
Even a player lined up to get his autograph Wednesday.
Boo Weekley stood behind the 18th green as Woods and Jim Furyk finished an abbreviated practice round at Doral in 30 mph wind. He was holding two flags, from the Arnold Palmer Invitational, which Woods won with a 25-foot birdie on the last hole; and from the Accenture Match Play Championship, which Woods won by a record 8-and-7 margin in the final round.
It was for charity, although the scene spoke volumes.
There is a sense of awe among Woods’ peers during a stretch of golf that rivals Byron Nelson’s golden season of 1945, when he won 11 straight events and 18 out of 30. And there is determination not to let this domination continue.
“It’s a great time to be playing,” Adam Scott said. “It’s awfully hard to beat him, but he doesn’t play every week. I know he’s winning all the time, but he doesn’t win every week, either.”
Then the 27-year-old Australian paused long enough that he couldn’t contain a wry smile.
“There’s no proof of that,” Scott said. “But we’ll try to change it this week.”
The bookmakers don’t like the chances of the other 78 guys on the Blue Monster at Doral. Woods was listed as a 2-3 favorite on one Web site, staggering odds for a sport in which players have no control over the competition and the hole is only 4 1/2 inches in diameter.
Next in line is Phil Mickelson at 15-1.
There’s a reason for that. Woods has won at Doral the last three years, the first two when it was a full-field PGA Tour event. He has won this World Golf Championship six of eight years, the first five when it was called the American Express Championship and played around the world. His two-shot victory last year made him the first player to win the same event on six golf courses.
And there is no indication that Woods is about to let up.
Walking down the eighth fairway, caddie Steve Williams was asked how he spent Monday after Bay Hill.
“Practice,” he said as he kept walking.
What about Tuesday?
“Practice,” Williams said, adding after a few more steps, “but not as much.”
Woods might be the only guy not wrapped up in his streak, the longest he has gone in his career without losing. He counts it as seven, including his unofficial Target World Challenge against a field of 16. But everything is geared toward four weeks a year, starting next month at the Masters.
“You can win every tournament for the entire year, but if you go 0-for-4 in major championships . you don’t really get remembered for the number of wins in a career,” he said. “It’s the number of wins in major championships. Those are the biggest events. It you win one major a year, it turns a good year into a great one.”
Woods did not show up at Doral until the sun cast a pink glow Wednesday morning, and when he stepped to the first tee, he turned to agent Mark Steinberg and said, “Should I take a practice swing? Nah.”
Then he ripped a tee shot with a severe hook, turned back and said with a grin, “Should have taken a practice swing.”
Woods and Furyk played the first 10 holes, then walked over to play the 18th because the wind was so severe. It was hard to find anyone who played 18 holes in such conditions. They were so tough that Furyk hit a beautiful tee shot on the 467-yard closing hole, and when he got to his ball, he quickly found a sprinkler head to get his yardage.
He was still so far from the green that the sprinkler had no number on it. Woods, meanwhile, hammered a tee shot and still had to hit a 3-wood to land just short and to the right of the green.
Wind really is the only defence on the Blue Monster, which is framed by white bunkers on every hole.
The defence against Woods? Still to be determined.
Bart Bryant held his own at Bay Hill until Woods made one putt on the final hole. Sean O’Hair was two shots behind after playing in the final group with Woods for the first time. He said he did not watch Woods until his final putt.
“I think you can kind of get taken back a little bit,” O’Hair said. “As much as I admire him, his game and what he does for our sport, I’ve also got to compete against the guy. I respect the guy, but I also want to beat his brains in when I’m on the golf course. We’re all aware of how good he is. But it’s not like we’re laying down.”
Scott has played in the final group with Woods only once, six shots behind, so that was hardly a fair fight. Scott arrived in Florida on Saturday and watched Woods birdie the two toughest holes at Bay Hill to wind up in a five-way tie for the lead.
“It seems like everyone crumbles around him,” Scott said. “But Bart didn’t last week. A lot of times, Tiger does incredible stuff to win.”