Tiger Woods, in the year-plus since he won his first PGA Tour event after slamming his SUV into that hydrant, has turned all that talk about Rory McIlroy rousting him from his spot atop the world of golf into so much blather.
With the world No. 1 running away from his opponents the way he did during his former glory years -- back when he achieved the Tiger Slam in 2000-2001 -- McIlroy may become just another would-be rival turned roadkill (see: Sergio Garcia) on Woods’ race toward golf’s Mount Olympus.
It’s been a mere 50-odd days since Tiger, who bottomed out at No. 58 in early November 2011, leapfrogged Rory in the world golf rankings. After a meteoric start to his 2013 season, however, it seems as if Woods never left the throne he owned for a record 281 consecutive weeks.
Woods, with four victories in seven PGA Tour events in 2013 -- including winning his 300th career start at The Players after doing so in his 100th and 200th as well -- has served notice on McIlroy and other comers that the road to the winner’s circle once again goes through him. His two-shot victory, which he earned even after drowning his tee shot on the 14th hole in Sunday’s finale, marked the fastest he has ever collected four Ws to start a season.
Consider that in 2000, undoubtedly his best year to date, Woods won four tour stroke-play events by May 28, which was 16 days after lifting his fourth trophy in 2013. His 78th tour triumph -- just four shy of Sam Snead’s all-time record -- coming on his 300th try calculates to a 26 percent career winning percentage.
Woods also has an incredible seven wins in 22 of his last official tour contests (including match play). But for that pesky flag on No. 15 during Masters week, he would likely be eight for 22 and preparing to compete for his 16th major title.
More grist for the calculator: Woods leads the tour in several categories, including putting (strokes gained and total), eagles, and scoring average.
Tiger Woods' last 4 starts: Win, Win, T4, Win. Combined 50-under. 15 of 16 rounds under par.— Justin Ray (@JRayESPNGolf) May 12, 2013
Oh, and Tiger, who (whether or not he took a generous drop on the 14th or lied about chatting with the marshals at TPC Sawgrass) mentioned last week that he was “pleased with every facet” of his game and “getting better.” Which had at least one accomplished pro shaking his head.
"From what I saw the last couple of days he's been putting great,” Brandt Snedeker, who played with Woods for the first two rounds of The Players, told USA Today’s Steve DiMeglio on Sunday. “That's scary. The way he hits it and with his short game, that's hard to beat."
As for McIlroy, whose fledgling rivalry with Woods was headline fodder for much of last season, the last time he looked down on Woods from the top of the golf rankings was March 17, when he was ahead by 1.15 points. He’s now down by 3.24 and, though greatly improved since the woeful start to his season, struggled mightily with his putter last week and at the Wells Fargo Championship.
“Tee to green I thought I played really, really well,” McIlroy said after carding four birdies in his last six holes Sunday and finishing in a tie for eighth with Garcia and five others. “I just didn’t hole the putts....I struggled a little bit reading them, and I got a bit indecisive.”
On the plus side for the two-time major champion, McIlroy made the cut at Sawgrass for the first time in four tries and contends, with the U.S. Open at Merion looming in a month, that his game is “very, very close.”
It may not be close enough, however, if Woods continues racking up the Ws at such a dizzying pace. With that in mind, Justin Ray offered this parting shot from Sawgrass to McIlroy, et al:
Tiger Woods: 4 wins before June 1 for 2nd time in career. Only other time it happened was 2000. He went on to win next 4 majors held.— Justin Ray (@JRayESPNGolf) May 12, 2013