DORAL (AP) – The outcome has never been more inevitable. Tiger Woods has never looked so invincible.
The world's No. 1 golfer faced a 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole at Bay Hill, and the moment he settled over the ball and the crowd grew quiet, it no longer mattered that Woods had not made a putt this long all week.
This one was for the win.
For most players, making such a vital putt would be a career highlight. For Woods, it's more like a summer rerun.
“You know what he's going to do, right?” Arnold Palmer whispered to those around him right before Woods rapped his putt down the slope and watched it turn sharply to the right and tumble into the cup for a one-shot victory.
For Woods, it is the ultimate thrill.
“It's knowing that you have an opportunity to end the tournament, and it's in your hands,” he said.
“Whether you do it or not remains to be seen. It's like having the (basket)ball with a few seconds to go.
Do you want it or not want it? I would much rather have it in my hands.”
The Florida Swing long has been known as the road to the Masters, which is three weeks away. Woods already has his game at warp speed, and he's lapping the field. His victory on Sunday, March 16 in the
Arnold Palmer Invitational was his fifth in a row on the U.S. PGA Tour and his sixth straight worldwide, a streak that spans six months and is the longest overall of his incomparable career. When he won seven straight tour events in 2006-2007, second only to Byron Nelson's 11 in 1945, Woods lost three times overseas.
Now, even the purists must wonder if Woods can go an entire season without losing.
“It's unbelievable, isn't it?” Steve Stricker said on Monday. “You think that one of these times, he's not going to get it done. But he continues to do it. And now you expect it. You just learn with him that nothing is unexpected.”
Woods' latest victim was Bart Bryant, who did everything right and never felt so helpless.
Bryant twice made birdie to tie Woods for the lead, shot a 67 in stifling heat and waited in the scoring trailer to see if Woods could beat him. There was no television in the trailer, and Bryant didn't need one.
He heard a roar that rattled the trailer, and Bryant forced a smile and slowly shook his head.
“That's why he's Tiger Woods,” he said.
Stricker felt that way outside Chicago in the second week in September, when this winning streak started. He had a one-shot lead in the final round when he got to the 12th hole, looked down toward the green and saw Woods make a 50-foot birdie putt to catch him. Woods went on to a two-shot victory.
He can sympathize with Bryant.
“That's all you can do sometimes is shake your head and laugh,” Stricker said. “That's what it's getting to be – laughable.”
Golf is more global than it was a half-century ago, so Woods' winning streak is complicated. This is the third time he has won at least five in a row, and he also won on the European Tour last month, shooting a 31 on the back nine to rally from a four-shot deficit.
And he won the Target World Challenge in December, although that doesn't count because it was a charity event that Woods hosts for 16 top players from the world ranking. For what it's worth, Woods won by seven shots.
Woods is so dominant that he has won seven of his last eight times on the U.S. PGA Tour, the exception being a runner-up finish to Phil Mickelson at the Deutsche Bank Championship in September.
Incredibly, he's won 16 of 25 events since the 2006 British Open.
“What he's doing now, you can't even fathom it,” Bryant said. “You just can't explain it. It's just incredible.
Just what he did today is more evidence of this weird zone he's in. And he's been in it his whole life.”
Woods was just starting college in 1994, a skinny teenager who had fallen behind in the championship match of the U.S. Amateur, when his father whispered in his ear, “Let the legend grow.” Woods birdied three straight holes to win.
Ernie Els added to the hype when Woods went eagle-birdie-birdie to beat him in a playoff in Hawaii to start the 2000 season.
“I think he's a legend in the making,” Els said that day. “You guys have helped, but he's backed it up with his golf game. He's 24. He's probably going to be bigger than Elvis when he gets into his 40s.”
He didn't wait that long. He's only 32 and already is tied with Ben Hogan for third in career victories with 64. The only players ahead of him are Jack Nicklaus (73) and Sam Snead (82).
With each victory, Woods adds another layer to the legend.
It's not even spring yet, and consider his year so far: He set scoring records at Torrey Pines with an eight-shot victory. He was headed for a first-round defeat in the Match Play Championship when he made 90 feet worth of putts to win four straight holes for a stunning comeback victory, and he eventually set a record in the final match for largest margin of victory (8 and 7).
And then came Palmer's tournament, and a putt that everyone knew was going to drop.
Can he go undefeated? Even as well as he is playing, the odds are against it. Woods hinted as much when someone asked what could stop this winning streak.
“All of the players in the event,” he said.
Even so, consider what lies ahead. He is playing this week at Doral, where he has won the last three years. Next up is the Masters, where Woods is a four-time champion. He is the defending champion at the Wachovia Championship in North Carolina. In fact, he has won every event on his schedule.
“He's got a lot of memories, and they're all positive,” Stricker said. “Some guys could blow a tournament, and two weeks later they're in contention and have to think about that. All he has is positives. His whole career is nothing but positive reinforcement.”