Woods begins at Buick Invitational
Published: Thursday, January 25, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 25, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.
SAN DIEGO — As many times as Tiger Woods has played and won at Torrey Pines, he has never figured out the patchwork shades of blue in the Pacific Ocean below the cliffside course. Looking out from the fourth green Wednesday morning, his New Zealand caddie told him the darker the shade, the colder the water.
It was a fitting start to his 2007 season, staring at segments that represent old and new, but blending.
The Buick Invitational is his first tournament of the season, but Woods carries over from last year a PGA Tour winning streak that dates to July. He is going for his seventh in a row on the PGA Tour, and odds are in his favor as the two-time defending champion.
"It is meaningful because it's not easy to do," Woods said, and he should know because he won six straight PGA Tour events at the end of 1999 and beginning of 2000, the second-longest streak behind Byron Nelson's 11 in a row in 1945.
But he also doesn't consider it a real streak.
That ended at five in October when he lost in the first round of the HSBC World Match Play Championship in England. Throw out match play, and Woods was runner-up consecutive weeks in Asia.
"It's a PGA Tour streak," Woods said. "It's not really a win streak because obviously, I lost at Match Play, I lost at the Ryder Cup, I finished second in China, I finished second in Japan. I was on a losing streak for a bit."
Also in transition are his emotions.
Gone is the dread Woods felt at Torrey Pines last year when he knew his father had only a short time to live, replaced by the excitement of his wife being pregnant with their first child, due sometime in July.
"I'm looking forward to the year and what's going to transpire," Woods said. "Last year, I was not looking forward to the year and what was going to transpire. One is just praying and hoping, and the other is pure excitement and enjoyment. So it's two totally opposite ends."
He was lively during his pro-am, talking about the changes to Torrey Pines for the U.S. Open next year, his dinner Tuesday night with San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson, his wife's plans to finish out her spring semester in college.
The first step in his new year starts today against a 156-man field that is not as strong as recent years, but looks stacked at the top with Woods, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh.
And while there is much talk about a streak, that tends to shift some attention to Mickelson.
Woods won the final four PGA events in 1999 (he finished sixth at the Johnnie Walker Classic in Thailand in November) then won the first two events of 2000 to raise remote possibilities that Nelson's untouchable record might be within reach.
The next stop was Torrey Pines.
"He didn't get it, did he?" Mickelson said, trying to fool his audience with a quizzical look. Lefty knows better, having pulled away over the final six holes to end Woods' streak at six.
"He's on a remarkable tear," Mickelson said. "He's obviously an incredibly talented player, but when he gets on runs like this, it's very difficult to stop him. But I know a lot of guys in the field are going to be doing their best."
Not many of them are as fresh — or maybe rusty — as Woods.
He took a five-week break after his Target World Challenge, skiing in Colorado and going back to the practice range two weeks ago. It was long enough to make him miss the competition, although that has been lacking since July.
Woods began his PGA Tour streak by winning the British Open. His streak included two majors, two World Golf Championships and separation of 20 strokes in combined margin of victory.
Isn't that getting a little old?
"I would love to be the one to beat him so he wouldn't be able to make it seven in a row," said John Daly, the last player besides Woods to win the Buick Invitational. "I don't think it's stale. It's good for the tour. It gets stale for us because he's winning every week. That's what kind of (stinks) a little bit."
About the only thing that might slow him down is becoming a father.
Woods said he would skip the British Open if his wife was about to give birth, which was more important than trying to become the first player in more than 50 years to win golf's oldest championship three straight times.
"If she's going to have it during the week of the Open, I just don't go," he said.
But previous life-changing experiences haven't stopped him — not his marriage in 2004, not the death of his father last May. Mickelson has three children, and had lackluster performances during two of those years because of difficulties during the pregnancy. Otherwise, he doesn't expect fatherhood to change Woods.
"I certainly hope it does, but I don't see that happening," Mickelson said. "He's always been able to balance so many different areas of his life that I think this will just be another area that he adds into the mix, and a very rewarding part of his life."
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