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Byron Nelson's 1945 season remembered

The 18 tee boxes on the TPC at Las Colinas each have a sign showing the tournaments Byron Nelson won in 1945 on the PGA Tour, including his record 11 straight victories from the Miami Four-Ball in March through the Canadian Open in August.

It is a subtle reminder for Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and the rest of Big Five playing in the EDS Byron Nelson Championship of what many consider the greatest year in golf.

There is an argument for Bobby Jones winning the Grand Slam in 1930 when the four majors consisted of the U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur, British Open and British Amateur.

Ben Hogan won five of the six tournaments he played in 1953, three of them the only majors he could enter. Woods won nine times in 2000, including three straight majors, and broke Nelson's scoring record that had stood for 55 years.

"All are different for different reasons,'' Woods said Wednesday when asked to rate the greatest season. "But I have to say his feat, winning 11 in a row. I don't care that some of the guys were gone with the war and stuff. Winning 11 in a row ... do you realize how good you have to play?

"You're going to have one bad week in there, but his bad week he still won by probably, three, four, five shots?''

He was close.

Nelson won by at least two shots in the stroke-play tournaments he played that year.

On the 60-year anniversary of his record year, Lord Byron was honored Wednesday afternoon at the tournament that has carried his name for the last 38 years and, appropriately, has given more to charity than any other tour event.

He met briefly with reporters, and Nelson was asked if he ever thought that at age 93, he could look back at his 1945 season and see that no one had matched it. Hogan won 13 times the next year, while the closest anyone has ever come to his streak was Hogan (1948) and Woods (1999-2000), who each won six in a row.

Nelson smiled.

"I never thought about the fact I'd live to be 93,'' he said as the room erupted in laughter.

He is still going strong, showing up at the Masters last month, driving out to the airport on Monday to greet U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen, who is playing in the EDS Byron Nelson Championship for the first time.

"He's sitting out there at the Champions Dinner telling stories, talking about 1931 like it was two days ago,'' defending champion Sergio Garcia said. "It's amazing.''

As for his season?

"I don't think anybody is going to ever achieve that again,'' Garcia said. "It's something out of this world.''

Asked about 1945, Nelson smiled and said, "I can't remember.''

"Thank goodness,'' he added, "people don't let me forget.''

He only recalls that golf felt easy, not winning 11 in a row or beating the field by as many as 10 shots, but the fluid swing that always seemed to find the fairway.

"I didn't have to make great changes because I learned to grip the club correctly when I was 18, and I never changed that,'' Nelson said. "When I found something that worked, I never changed.''

Nelson only played to make enough money to build a ranch, and it was a meager sum by today's standards -- $182,000 -- roughly ninth-place money this week.

He often is asked how he would do against today's stars.

"I wouldn't go hungry,'' Nelson said.

There is no shortage of stars at Las Colinas, the first time at a regular PGA Tour event that the top five in the world ranking -- Woods, Singh, Els, Phil Mickelson and Goosen -- are all in the field. The top four all are past champions at the Byron Nelson Championship.

Singh is coming off his third victory of the season last week at the Wachovia Championship, where he took advantage of a record-tying collapse by Garcia to win in a playoff. Mickelson showed signs of getting his game ready for the U.S. Open by closing with a 66 despite a double bogey-bogey finish.

Woods tied for 11th last week at Quail Hollow in his first tournament since winning the Masters.

Els also has three wins this year, all from afar. He won back-to-back in the Middle East (Dubai, Qatar), then two weeks ago recorded the largest winning margin of his career -- 13 strokes -- at the BMW Asian Open in China. Still, he is irritated that his game took a vacation at the Masters.

"I played some of the best golf I've played all year,'' Els said. "A month late, but that's one of those things.''

It shouldn't take Els long to feel as though he's back in the mix. The Big Easy plays the first two rounds with Singh, whom he called "questionably the best player right now in the world.''

Singh has won twice the last three weeks, both in playoffs.

"He's found that little trick of beating the guys at the moment,'' Els said. "He just keeps on taking it over. If he's not winning, he's in playoff or very close. So, he's found that little magic. Who knows how long he's going to do it? Hopefully, not too long.''

Then again, no streak seems terribly long this week, not with so much focus on what Nelson did in 1945.


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