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Different streaks for Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods has never had any trouble counting on the golf course, though it's not too hard to add up a couple of nines filled with birdies and pars and come up with something in the 60s.

He didn't have a problem counting to four a few years ago either, when the trophies from all the major championships sat on his fireplace mantle at the same time. And he knows exactly how many more majors he has to win (seven) to top the record of 18 held by Jack Nicklaus.

Figuring out his bank balance might be a bit trickier, since it seems to expand by millions every week. No one other than Woods and his accountants know for certain, but estimates are he will in just a few short years become the first athlete to become a billionaire in earnings and endorsements alone.

The math really gets fuzzy this week, though, when Woods tees it up in the Accenture Match Play Championship. In the Arizona desert, he'll try to win his eighth straight PGA Tour event, and move a step closer to a record once thought as insurmountable as Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak.

But wait. It gets even better.

Assuming he wins the Match Play -- and he's won it twice -- it's on to Florida where Woods is expected to play twice in tournaments he usually dominates. Wins there would get him to 10 straight, one short of the record set by the late Byron Nelson against war-depleted fields in 1945.

So where would a record-tying No. 11 come? How about at Augusta National in April?

On the 10th anniversary of his astonishing first win in the Masters. In his first Masters since his father died.

They couldn't write a script like this in Hollywood. Way too unbelievable.

Then again, it's hard not to believe. Woods has already proved he's the greatest golfer of his time, and just 11 years into his pro career he's beginning to make a case for himself as the greatest of all time.

He's the only modern player to win four straight majors, and there's little doubt now that he will pass Nicklaus to win the most majors ever. His name is all over the record books and, perhaps most frightening to his fellow players, is that he seems to be getting better with every year.

OK, so there's an asterisk to this latest streak, somewhat like the one attached to the Tiger Slam because Woods didn't win his four consecutive majors in one year. Woods put this one there himself by traveling to Europe, Asia and the Middle East and failing to win four tournaments.

Critics might argue that the streak ended last September when Shaun Micheel pulled off his biggest upset since winning the PGA Championship by beating Woods 4 and 3 in the opening match of the HSBC World Match Play Championship in England.

Somewhat surprisingly, Woods isn't going to debate the point. It is, as Woods likes to say, what it is.

"It's a PGA Tour streak, which it is. And on top of that, it encompasses two different years, just like '99 and 2000," Woods said after winning in San Diego last month. "I play all around the world. I lost to Shaun Micheel, I lost the Ryder Cup, I lost in China and I lost in Japan. There are some L's in there, and they are not all W's."

Woods can afford to be modest. His place in golf is already assured, whether he matches the streak of PGA Tour wins set by Nelson or not.

He's also past the point where he can be criticized for choosing where he wants to play, though the International in Colorado cited his absence as the reason it folded this year. The PGA Tour might not be too happy Woods has played only once on tour this year, but he has earned the right to jump on his Gulfstream V and jet his way to Dubai for guaranteed millions anytime he wants.

There were some grumblings at Riviera Country Club last week that Woods skipped the Nissan because he has never won on the course and wanted to keep his streak intact. But he could have just as easily skipped the Match Play, where he was knocked out in the third round last year and which is being held on a course he has never played.

It's not as if Woods is worried about picking up some of the 26,250 FedExCup points up for grabs. He measures success the old fashioned way, like Nicklaus before him, in major championships, not sponsor points.

Actually, the only thing Woods really cares about is winning majors. The streak he's most concerned about won't end at the Match Play, Bay Hill or Doral.

That streak now stands at two after wins last year in the British Open and the PGA Championship. If Woods can win the Masters and U.S. Open he will hold all four trophies, just like he did in 2000-01.

The rest is just gravy, a chance to add some more trophies to the rec room and a few more zeros to the bank account.



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