School's in session

School’s in session

Tiger Woods, who has won five consecutive tournaments, said he could envision someone breaking Byron Nelson's record of 11 in row.
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

NORTON, Mass. — What the student wants to know, of course, is how does he do it. Vijay Singh’s a good golfer. Pretty much anything Tiger Woods can do with a golf ball, Vijay Singh can, too. The two men were paired together in the last group on Labor Day at the TPC Boston, in the fourth round of the Deutsche Bank Championship. Singh had a three-shot lead through three rounds, built by shooting 61 in the third round.

But Woods knew something Singh did not: One of the hardest things to do in golf is follow a super-low round with another stunner. Just doesn’t happen. Johnny Miller shot his historic 63 on a U.S. Open Sunday at Oakmont — there was no next day. Mike Donald shot 64 at Augusta on a Masters Thursday once, and didn’t break 80 the next day. “It’s one of the mysteries of golf,” Woods said.

For Woods it meant this: The chances of Singh going crazy low again were slim. Which meant that a three-shot lead was not insurmountable. After three holes on Monday, with an eagle and a birdie on his card, Woods had already eliminated the difference. After going out in 30, the thing was pretty much done; Woods’ fifth straight victory was inevitable. In the end, he finished two ahead of Singh. The event, which benefits the Tiger Woods Foundation, was one of the few on Tour Woods had never won. Scratch that off the list.

In the players’ locker room, there was — get this — only a single TV with fuzzy reception. Still, a half-dozen players watched Woods make his march in. When ABC showed a slow-motion replay of one of Woods’ swings, the chit-chat in the room came to an almost complete silence, as the players admired one perfect position after another. To the untrained eye, his swing is starting to look very much like it did in 2000, the year he won the U.S. Open by 15. To Tiger’s eye, it’s better now than it was then, and he’s a better player. To the players watching on the fuzzy TV, they were trying to pick up something they could use for themselves.

“Is that divot going a little left?”

“Yeah, yeah it is.”

The player nodded. His divots are going a little left, too. He must be doing something right.

Aaron Baddeley, the Australian who won at Hilton Head in April, played his first two rounds with Woods. Some people have the impression that Woods is a modern-day Hogan, unconnected to the world beyond himself, but it’s not the case. Woods praised generously Baddeley’s opening-round 67, while Woods himself shot 66. Baddeley said you can learn every time you watch Woods.

“I saw him chipping with a putting grip,” Baddeley said. That is, the left index finger holding down the small finger and the ring finger of the right hand. “I figured I better give that a try myself.” Baddeley incorporated that grip into his chipping game immediately and plans to go home and practice with it more.

Woods’ own record for consecutive wins is six, and the the PGA Tour record is 11, set by Byron Nelson in 1945. Woods thinks it’s attainable, but that’s because he enters every tournament with the same mind-set, which is to win. But he acknowledges it’s a longshot, maybe the toughest record in all of sports.

“It means never having a bad week,” Woods said after the victory. “Or maybe Byron won in his bad weeks.” By Woods’ estimation, 11 straight will be a tougher record to break than Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. “I could see someone doing that,” he said. Of course, he can see himself winning each time out, too. He wouldn’t show up if he didn’t.

The Labor Day win didn’t look to be an emotional one for Woods, and he said it wasn’t, for one main reason: He’s worn out. He won the British Open, then the Buick Open, then the PGA Championship, then the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone, flew all night to play two practice rounds at the K-Club outside Dublin, woke up at 5 a.m. Wednesday to fly to Boston for the tournament for which he is the unofficial host, and won that. He said he was looking forward to going home and getting some sleep. And then hitting the range and getting better.

“You can always get better,” he said in the dying light of Labor Day. A new school year was about to begin. “You’re always learning in this game.”