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Tiger Woods bittersweet 2006

Tiger Woods, who has made a habit of achieving the remarkable, was golf's dominant figure in 2006 despite the death of his father in early May.

The world number one ended the PGA Tour season with an astonishing eight victories in 15 starts, including the British Open at Hoylake and the PGA Championship at Medinah.

He also won the European Tour's Dubai Desert Classic in February and will launch his 2007 campaign at the Mercedes Championships in Hawaii bidding for a seventh PGA Tour title in a row.

Although fellow American Phil Mickelson made a storming start to this year en route to a second Masters success and Australia's Geoff Ogilvy broke through at the highest level by winning the U.S. Open at Winged Foot, Woods was in a class of his own.

After taking a nine-week break to cope with the illness and subsequent death of his father Earl, he triumphed in his last six U.S. events and became the first player to win at least eight times on the world's biggest tour in three different seasons (1999, 2000 and 2006).

Compatriots Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer achieved the feat twice.

Woods finished as the Tour's leading money-winner with $9,941,563 in official earnings while posting the lowest adjusted scoring average of 68.11, the second best of his career.

Not surprisingly, 2006 will always evoke bitter-sweet memories for him.

"It has been a long, challenging year, especially off the golf course," Woods said.

"Nothing could make up for losing my father but I know he would have been proud of the way I rebounded after missing the cut at the U.S. Open by winning six straight PGA Tour tournaments, including two majors.

"Although it has been difficult at times to concentrate on golf, I have continued to work and fight and good things happened."

Lifted by his brilliant form on the course, Woods strengthened his hold at the top of the world rankings where his points average is more than double that of second-placed Jim Furyk.

Less than two years ago, golf was perceived to be dominated by the "Big Five" of Woods, Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen. No longer.

Left-hander Mickelson faded over the last six months of 2006 while Fijian Singh and South Africans Els and Goosen fell short of expectation.

Singh, who missed the cut in the last two majors, and Els, not yet back to his best following a knee injury midway through last year, have both dropped out of the world's top five.

Mickelson, meticulous in his preparation for the biggest events, established a firm grip on the game over the first four months of the season.

He romped to victory by 13 strokes at the BellSouth Classic one week before winning his third major title with a consummate performance at the Masters. In both tournaments, he carried two drivers in his bag.

Going into the final round of the U.S. Open, Mickelson was well placed to claim a third successive major victory but squandered the opportunity with an erratic drive and a double-bogey six at the 72nd hole.

Briton Colin Montgomerie also blew a golden chance to end his major drought by double-bogeying the last. Ogilvy, benefiting from those twin lapses, was able to celebrate his major breakthrough.

Woods then took over the script.

Cleverly using a two-iron off the tee at a sun-scorched Hoylake in July, he completed one of the best ball-striking weeks of his career with a two-shot victory at the British Open.

The tears flowed as he came to terms with his 11th major title, and the first since the death of his father.

The following month, he cruised home by five strokes in the PGA Championship, moving past fellow American Walter Hagen into outright second place in the all-time major standings with only Jack Nicklaus, on 18, ahead of him.

A rare failure for Woods came at the K Club in Ireland in September when he and his Americans team mates fell to a third successive defeat by Europe in the biennial Ryder Cup.

Although Woods was the leading U.S. performer with three points out of a possible five, the Americans were thumped by a record-equalling margin of 18-1/2 points to 9-1/2.

Annika Sorenstam, the Tiger of the women's game for the last four years, was unable to maintain her supremacy despite winning her 10th major title at the U.S. Women's Open.

The world number one surrendered the LPGA Tour money crown to Mexico's Lorena Ochoa, who also clinched player of the year honours with six Tour victories.

Australia's Karrie Webb, South Korea's Pak Se-ri and American veteran Sherri Steinhauer shared the other major spoils while young guns Paula Creamer, Michelle Wie and Natalie Gulbis ended the LPGA season winless.

December 6, 2006


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