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Next Tiger streak may start again soon

Even after his first PGA Tour loss in six months, Tiger Woods is not done chasing Byron Nelson.

Just ask Nelson.

"I imagine he is so good that one of these days, he's going to start another streak," Nelson said after watching one of his proteges, Phil Mickelson, end Woods's six-tournament winning streak Sunday in the Buick Invitational.

"Not just one or two in a row," Nelson said, "but one where he gets going and people start saying, 'I wonder if he can do it again?' "

Woods was only slightly better than a half-Nelson this time. He won six in a row, tied for second on the career list with Ben Hogan (1948) but well short of the 11 consecutive tournaments Nelson won in 1945.

Can he do it again?

"It all depends if someone gets hot like I did, plays well and gives themselves enough opportunities," Woods said. "Either you're going to win them outright yourself or you might need a little help. But I think it can be done again."

There is little reason to doubt him. While Woods will have to start from scratch, another streak is alive and well -- 42 consecutive tournaments in which he has made the cut.

The record is 113, set by Nelson in the 1940s. The closest anyone got to that was Jack Nicklaus, whose streak of 105 ended at the 1976 World Open. The earliest Woods could approach the record would be in 2003.

Woods is in contention on Sunday more often than any other player. The last time he finished lower than seventh in a stroke-play tournament was the MCI Classic in April, a span of 16 tournaments. In 73 PGA Tour events, he has 46 finishes in the top 10, a rate of 63 percent.

And as he proved at Torrey Pines, he doesn't have to be playing his best to have a chance to win.

On Sunday, Woods knew The Streak was in jeopardy on the first hole.

With the pin cut to the left side of the green, he wanted to hit his approach into about 10 feet right of the flag. Instead, it took off like a laser and stopped seven feet to the left.

"People were saying, 'Good shot,' and inside I knew it wasn't," Woods said.

He hit only 10 greens in regulation and only six of 14 fairways, but still managed to shoot a 4-under 68 inthe final round and make a gallant charge.

Few thought it possible. Mickelson, a 13-time winner on tour and the last amateur to win a PGA Tour event, led by seven strokes with 12 holes to play until he squandered his lead with two double bogeys, and three birdies by Woods.

Nelson, besieged by phone calls the past two months, watched the drama on TV from his ranch in Roanoke, Texas.

"Actually, I got very excited," the 88-year-old Nelson said. "My heart was beating fast. I was getting more nervous than if I was playing."

Woods's poor play finally caught up with him. He bogeyed two of the next three holes, while Mickelson birdied two in a row for a comfortable margin that led to a four-stroke win.

Nelson was excited for different reasons. He had become as captivated as everyone else as Woods crept closer to a record thought to be untouchable. He said he would be the first to congratulate Woods if he broke it.

And he was thrilled for Mickelson, for whom he has been a mentor.

"I think it's a great thing that it happened to Tiger when it did, as far as losing the streak," Nelson said. "I don't mean because that means I still have it. I've had it for 55 years -- that's immaterial at this stage of my life.

"But for Tiger, it was getting to be such a drain," Nelson said. "Everything he has to do, it's hard to focus. He looked tired to me. From that standpoint, I think what happened the way it happened is good for him. It will take some pressure off."

That clearly looked to be the case late in the round, when Woods ran out of miracles and Mickelson refused to give up the lead twice in one day.

Woods managed a smile when his drive on No. 15 sailed into the gallery and when his tee shot on the par-3 16th found a bunker. Was he relieved? Far from it.

"I don't know if you can be too excited about finishing second," he said.

The next streak could start this week in Los Angeles, where Woods has finished second the last two years. Nelson and Hogan won the week after their streaks ended.

Should Woods win the Nissan Open, another countdown will begin. And Nelson will sit back and watch.

"I think it's been great for golf," Nelson said. "I couldn't be happier with the way things went -- what it's done for golf, what it's done for Tiger."


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