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Tiger Woods new streak at one

Arnold Palmer presents Tiger with the Bay Hill trophy. Allsport.

Start counting.

Tiger Woods's winning streak on the PGA Tour is at one after a powerful performance in the Bay Hill Invitational. He never trailed during the final 36 holes, didn't make a bogey for the last 34 holes and breezed to a four-shot victory over Davis Love III.

Whether he gets as high as six straight victories -- or beyond -- is unlikely. But that's not the streak that best defines his dominance.

The depth on the PGA Tour is such that any number of 140 players is capable of winning every week. So why is it Woods seems to be the only player in the hunt every Sunday?

"He's playing everybody's 'A' game every week," Love said Sunday after his fourth loss to Woods in as many head-to-head showdowns since late October.

"Ernie Els could have just as easily shot 18-under here if he'd have played well," Love added. "I might go and shoot 15-under next week and win. But he's been doing it week after week after week after week. I think that's the difference."

In his last 16 PGA Tour tournaments, Woods has won 10 times. The reason behind such a staggering statistic is the number of times he puts himself into position.

Consider what Woods has done the past year, which covers 18 stroke-play events on the PGA Tour (from the 1999 Players Championship through 2000 Bay Hill Invitational):

    • He has finished out of the top 10 only three times.

    • He has not finished lower than 18th.

    • He has had at least a share of the 54-hole lead in eight of those tournaments, and won all eight.

    • His worst deficit going into the final round was eight strokes back in the 1999 GTE Byron Nelson Classic. Even there, he was tied for the lead on the back nine Saturday before dropping a couple of shots and then taking quadruple-bogey 7 on the 17th hole at Las Colinas.

"That's where you always want to be (in contentionon on Sunday), and that's one of the reason why I changed my golf swing in '97, is that I felt like I couldn't be in contention every time I teed it up with the swing I used to have," Woods said. "Now, it's a little different.

"I feel like if I go out there and play my game, and play smart, then I figure my golf swing can be a little more consistent," he said. "My bad shots aren't that bad. My good shots are always going to be pretty good, but it's the bad ones that are the key to shooting good, solid numbers."

Woods has shot over par only 15 times in his last 72 rounds dating to The Players Championship last year. His worst round is 3-over -- twice at The Players Championship on a rock-hard days at Sawgrass, The Masters in the final round, and three times in the British Open at Carnoustie, the wickedest links course in the world.

The next question is how long this will last.

Woods was quick to point out that David Duval had a similar run from the end of 1997 until the first part of 1999, when he won 11 of 34 tournaments. But Duval missed three cuts during his hot streak, including at the 1998 PGA Championship. Woods hasn't missed a cut since 1997.

"It's hard to sustain it for a long period of time," Woods said. "But I think it all depends on how much golf you play, what you want to accomplish in the game of golf, and the belief that you have in yourself."

And how long does Woods expect to sustain this streak?

"Hopefully," he said as a smile spread from ear to ear, "for a long, long time."

The key to Woods's consistency lies with the changes to his swing. His swing now is much more shallow and controlled, at the expense of distance he could afford to lose without losing his advantage off the tee.

But he also has learned to schedule himself so he always is at his best.

After his last four minivacations -- which followed the Ryder Cup Matches, the American Express Championship at Valderrama, the Mercedes Championships in Hawaii, and the Andersen Consulting Match Play Championship -- Woods returned refreshed and won his first official tournament back.

And Woods has made it clear from the start his goals are built around the major championships.

"That will be the ultimate goal, to win those four," he said. "But it doesn't always work out that way."

Maybe not. But at this rate, Woods at least will give himself a chance.

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