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Tiger's season excellent for anyone else

He always leaves someone tongue-tied. Or momentarily frozen.

Take the guy who stepped in front of him and asked for an autograph. Then, when the best player in the game put out his hand for the cap, the guy froze. Couldn’t hand it to him.

But Sunday afternoon, Tiger Woods left a rather unusual someone scrambling for words -- former President George Bush.

Bush, tucked into the back of Tiger’s final official post-round interview of the 2003 season, was asked if he had a question for Tiger. He couldn’t pull the trigger.

Or maybe there just wasn’t anything left to ask.

Five straight seasons of five or more wins, this one with two World Golf Championships titles. Another Vardon Trophy. A PGA Tour record for consecutive cuts. Second lowest scoring average in history and, of course, he owns the best. Second most money won in 2003 -- after four straight seasons of being No. 1.

And, oh, worst finish ever at a Tour Championship.

Hey, no one’s perfect. But Tiger? He’s a victim of his own success. And he’s the first to admit it.

He’s raised the bar so high, even he has trouble keeping up with himself on an annual basis. Especially in a season where he spent the first two months rehabbing from knee surgery.

So what, someone asked, was he going to work on for 2004?

“I’ve got to play two more tournaments -- my year is not over yet -- before I stop and evaluate,’’ he grinned. “I know our official season is over, but I still have two events I need to play well in. And after my tournament in California, then I’ll stop and evaluate what I need to do to improve.’’

And, yes, he’ll be able to find things. Whether it’s more consistency off the tee or a better winning percentage (this year’s was 27.7 percent) or more majors. Right, he didn’t win one for the first time since 1998.

Regardless, he’s still the incumbent in the Player of the Year voting and he states a pretty good case -- in the midst of a race filled with top players -- for another year on top.

“I think the number of wins,’’ he said when asked to state his case. “Not only the quality of tournaments I won, but percentage of tournaments I played in versus anybody and my winning percentage. As well as my stroke average. ‘’

For the record, he played in 18 events, winning five, finishing second twice and finishing in the top 10 a dozen times. And, yes, it was good enough for him to win the point-based PGA of America Player of the Year award for the fifth consecutive season. And there was that fifth consecutive -- yes, another record -- Vardon Trophy.

Whatever happens, though, happens. As he said, the voting -- decision day is Dec. 8 -- is up in the air.

Tiger came into The TourChampionship knowing what he had to do and didn’t pull it off. There were those errant tee shots and he never did find the speed and grain on the greens. In fact, the 16th hole Sunday pretty much summed up his week.

“My putt lipped,’’ he said. “Not only did it lip out, but it hit a bee on the edge of the hole that kicked it out.’’

And, yes, he laughed.

That’s what the best player in the game does. He gives it all he has for the year and that’s all we can expect. For anyone else, five wins and $6.6 million is a hell of a season. For Tiger -- without a major -- it’s, shall we say, not up to expectations.

Still, he finished the season by laughing his way to the locker room with President Bush, who, by the way, found plenty to say as they were walking along.

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