— CHASKA, Minn. - Streaking was quite the fad back in the mid-1970s. Daring people ran through college campuses, public places and sports events without a stitch of clothing on, providing the advertising industry and Will Ferrell with funny bits for decades to come.
Then along came Tiger Woods to revive streaking. That’s right, it’s not just an “Old School” scene. What’s more, it looks like Woods might be doing it again at Hazeltine National Golf Club, running wild, making a spectacle of himself.
OK, he’s not naked. The game's No. 1 yachtsman has his signature Nike apparel on, color-coordinated, trim and impeccable as always. But make no mistake about it, he’s dashing through the tail end of this PGA Tour schedule uninhibited. Oh, he’s out there Jerry, and he’s loooovin’ every minute of it!
Woods has been known to streak throughout his career. He put together a streak of six wins in succession early in 2000, pulling alongside Ben Hogan and threatening to chase down Byron Nelson’s record of 11 PGA Tour wins in succession. He manufactured another streak earlier this year, peeling off seven victories in a row.
That’s to say nothing of that little ol’ streak of four majors in succession crossing over the 1999 and 2000 seasons, otherwise known as the Tiger Slam. No one had ever streaked all four majors before. Now, it appears Woods is at it again. In what was supposed to be his transition season, his time to get reacquainted with a healthy left knee and refine a game that had been in storage for eight months, Woods is in a full-out sprint.
After missing the cut at the British Open — a development even Al Roker would have trouble making light of — Woods is letting it all hang out, so to speak. He took some time to regroup after the surprising turn of events at Turnberry, then came back to win the Buick Open, throwing rounds of 63 and 65 on the table.
The following week, he went to Firestone, a golf facility he owns, lock, stock and birdies. He won again, dealt back-to-back hands of 65 over the weekend and caught Padraig Harrington. The PGA Tour win was career No. 70 for Woods, his fifth in 11 stroke-play starts this year. It’s the kind of year transition the Pittsburgh Pirates can only dream of.
Still, it has been without what Woods craves most, a major victory. At Hazeltine on Thursday, at “Glory’s Last Shot,” Woods remained locked in. He covered the long pastures of rural Minnesota in 67 strokes, five birdies without a bogey, 5 under par and alone at the top the leaderboard.
“I played really well today,” the 33-year-old Woods said. “I hit just a bunch of good shots. And this round could have been really low. I missed a bunch of putts out there. So it was just a very positive start.”
Four days after falling on his sword with a triple-bogey and losing a battle with Woods on Sunday at Firestone, Harrington is paired with Tiger again for the first two rounds of the PGA Championship. With the intensity level turned down a notch, he took time to smell the roses.
“I watched a lot of his shots today and few of his swings,” said Harrington, who stayed in step with a 4-under 68. “It’s amazing.”
The question is, can it be stopped. Woods has been leading or tied for the lead after the first round 23 times in his career and he has gone on to win 12 of those tournaments, better than 50 percent. He has been leading or tied 38 times after 36 holes and gone on to win 32 times, even better. At this point, the only thing that might stop Woods is one of Alvaro Quiros’ bombs, which nearly plunked Woods on the 11th green.
“I mean, that’s just stupid long,” said Woods, about Quiros reaching the green on the 600-yard par-5 in two shots. “To hit it that far into the wind, uphill, is phenomenal — absolutely phenomenal. I used to be able to move the ball (like that), not anymore. I just plod my way around, shoot 67.”
Reporters laughed at the tongue-in-cheek self-effacement., then asked Woods how he felt about the announcement that rugby and golf being recommended for the Olympics by the IOC executive committee. “I’d love to play for the rugby team, that would be great,” said a jovial Woods.
Funny stuff, but the truth is, it might take an Olympic rugby team to drag him down. It’s hard to imagine that a year ago Woods was taking his first awkward steps after removing the brace from his reconstructed knee. Now, he is leading a major, ready for a scrum.
Woods has seized these Grand Slam events by record margins in the past. He isn’t just capable going low for a day, he’s capable of going nuclear submarine, diving deep and staying there for four days. It’s simple really: Woods is the best player on the planet, a professional golf world where all the other inhabitants tend to feint in his presence.
And if he is on top of his game, and in the lead, not even Usain Bolt can catch him.
“There are times I’ve put it together and I’ve had some pretty good margins of victory,” Woods said. “I just feel that overall, my game over the years, it’s gotten better and more consistent. And when I’m playing well, I don’t usually make that many mistakes.”
Rich Beem can vouch for that. Beem, who fought off Woods to win the PGA at Hazeltine in 2002, saw his adversary up close and personal on Thursday, part of the threesome with Harrington. He watched Woods hit 12 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens. He watched as Woods rolled 29 putts, including makes from 20, 20 and 30 feet.
“He’s just very efficient,” Beem said. “He never looked like he was going to make bogey. He made a couple of putts on 18 and on 1, but other than that, just very efficient. No big tee shots way right or way left or anything like that. It was easy.”
Woods has fired an opening-round 67 in three previous majors — the 2000 British Open, 2002 U.S. Open and 2006 British Open — and went on to win all three. That’s not an infallible statistic; he also has had opening rounds lower than 67 and not won.
But playing a rare third week in succession, Woods seems to have his groove on. Look out Hazeltine, there is a streaker on the loose.