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Tiger Woods
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Woods looking forward to another chance at Valderrama

Talent alone is reason enough to believe Tiger Woods is capable of winning more than the seven PGA Tour titles he has accumulated this year.

What Davis Love III noticed about him this week is even more telling.

After the first day of 27 holes in the Tour Championship, Love spent two hours with Woods on a flight to Orlando, Fla., to attend the memorial service for Payne Stewart.

"He just seems very, very confident and very, very sure of himself," Love said. "He has gotten everything around him where he wants it. I think he knows what he has to do, and he's going to do it. I don't see him easing off at all."

When they returned to Houston, Love spent all day with Woods during another 27-hole round in which the 23-year-old star dissected Champions Golf Club to build a three-shot lead. Considering Woods's track record with a lead, that was as good as a win.

Sure enough, Woods never let anyone close to him Sunday on his way to a four-stroke victory, his largest margin since a 12-stroke victory in the 1997 Masters. It was the 12th straight time he has won after having at least a share of the 54-hole lead, a streak that began at the 1997 Mercedes Championships

Where does that leave Woods?

From numbers alone, he is approaching territory few imagined possible considering the depth of talent on the PGA Tour. Not since Johnny Miller in 1974 has anyone won eight times in one year. Yet Woods can match that this week in the final World Golf Championship event at Valderrama, Spain.

Another victory would make it 8-of-11 since the middle of May, which sounds more like a decent game at the free throw line. It also would leave the rest of golf wondering what scraps will be left.

"He has gotten better every year," Love said. "I told the guys the first couple of years that he is not even close to how good he can get. I think we're just starting to see that."

If Love saw contentment and focus on that plane ride to Orlando, he also saw a young man who was not getting wrapped up in his success. Woods was asked two months ago after winning the NEC Invitational about his hot streak, and all he talked about were the countless hours of practice that no one saw but swing coach Butch Harmon.

He said it again after winning at Disney World last week, and again on Sunday after winning $900,000 to push his season earnings past $5.6 million.

And in all three cases, Woods wouldn't even dare speculate how far he could go.

"What do I want to get to? I guess like the Army commercial, be the best I can be," he said. "What that is, I don't know. But I will continue to work and just pay my dues. I don't know how much better I can get. We'll see.

"Over the course of the next 20 years, we'll see what happens when I look back on my career. Then you'll be able to understand when my peak was."

Looking back on a 3-year-old career, everyone knows when his peak wasn't.

After winning the Western Open in that whirlwind 1997 season when "Tigermania" was at its peak, Woods won just once on the PGA Tour until this past February in the Buick Invitational toward the end of the West Coast swing.

But he knew the work he was putting into the game, along with a strong mind that enabled him to contend even as his swing was slowly going through an overhaul, was beginning to pay off.

"I'll let you in on a little secret," he offered. "After I came off the West Coast swing, I told Butch, 'Don't' be surprised if I win seven times this year.' And I've won eight times (including one in Europe), which has been nice, with a few more tournaments to go."

Only one of those is official, and for Woods it is the last measure of redemption.

Two hours after he won the Tour Championship, Woods boarded a charter plane for Spain. It was at Valderrama where he received perhaps the most stinging criticism of his young career. He was 1-3-1 in another Ryder Cup the United States was supposed to win and didn't.

Woods, the No. 1 player in the world, was beaten by former factory worker Costantino Rocca in a pivotal singles match. Woods caught the brunt of the blame.

"I'm excited about going to Spain. I'm really looking forward to it," Woods said. "I'd like to have another run at it. The last time ..."

His voice trailed off as a Cheshire cat grin crept over his face, as if he were preparing to pounce again.

"I'd like to have another go at that golf course."