Tiger Woods joined Ben Hogan, the late golf legend from Fort Worth, on the PGA Tour's career victory list (64) by winning Sunday's Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, Fla. Woods can move ahead of Hogan, into solo possession of third place on the tour's all-time win list, with another triumph at this weeks' WGC-CA Championship at the Doral Golf Resort & Spa in Miami.
Anyone who watched the emotion Woods displayed after burying a 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole to secure a one-stroke victory over Bart Bryant at Palmer's event had to realize that Tiger's current five-event winning streak at PGA Tour events is something near and dear to Woods' heart. The same can be said for his public acknowledgements that he considers it possible to win every event he enters during the 2008 season.
What does this mean, from a Hogan perspective? I'd expect Woods, 32, to have Hogan in his rearview mirror on the PGA Tour's career victory list by the time the final putt drops Sunday in Miami.
If not there, then certainly on April 13 at the Masters, which figures to be Woods' next appearance after the Miami event. Woods clearly is on top of his game. All of his eye-popping season statistics -- available at pgatour.com -- speak to that.
What jumps out as me is that I've rarely, if ever, seen Woods show as much emotion after winning a non-major than he showed Sunday in Orlando. After dropping the 25-footer that closed out Bryant, Woods slammed his black golf cap into the ground like a wide receiver spiking a football after scoring a touchdown in the Super Bowl. He fist-pumped. He bellowed with excitement.
If Woods continues bringing that kind of fire and emotion to the table during crunch time in the non-majors, as well as the majors, he figures to turn in the most memorable season of his incredible career in 2008. He'll break the deadlock with Hogan at 64 career victories in short order. He's got an excellent chance to win the first two majors of the season (Masters and U.S. Open), especially with the Open being played at Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla, Calif., where Woods has won the last four titles at the Buick Invitational, played annually at Torrey Pines.
But, a perfect season? That's not happening. This is golf and every golfer, including Tiger, is human and susceptible to the fickle nature of the game. Some days, you simply don't have it and there's no explanation other than, "that's golf."
Even Byron Nelson wasn't perfect in 1945, when he set PGA Tour records with 11 consecutive victories and 18 tournament triumphs in one season.
Woods, 32, figures to fall somewhere before he wins 11 in a row. And he won't threaten Nelson's record of 18 tour victories in a season because he won't play that many. Woods played only 16 tour events last season, and 15 in 2006. At present, he's certainly not on a pace to play more tour events in 2008 than in either of the past two seasons.
But he could threaten to win, or even pull off, a 2008 Grand Slam. That seems to be Woods' primary goal for 2008. And it's not far-fetched.
In terms of how high he can climb on golf's all-time victory list in 2008, it's hard to see how Woods can do much better than a solo third by the end of this season. Woods is at 64 victories. Jack Nicklaus, the No. 2 man on the list, won 73 titles. Sam Snead, the record-holder, won 82.
Expect Woods to be closing in on Nicklaus at this time next year. But you can expect him to put Ben Hogan safely in his rearview mirror very soon. Perhaps by Sunday in Miami.
_ Jimmy Burch