Saturday, March 15, 2008 Updated: March 16, 11:36 AM ET
Woods' win streak has to end at some point ... right?
By Bob Harig ESPN.com
ORLANDO -- Few would be surprised to see him do it again, but nor should they be if he doesn't. Tiger Woods put himself in position Saturday for another victory, but he does have to lose sometime. Doesn't he?
Woods, of course, stares a blank stare when the subject arises, doesn't waver. His intention is to win every tournament he plays, and hardly allows for the idea that such a proposition is nearly impossible.
And yet, here we go again.
Woods did a scoreboard shuffle Saturday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, scurrying up the board early, falling back, then making three back-nine birdies to plaster his name prominently among the leaders for all to see.
And almost on cue, Nick Watney hit a ball out of bounds, and Bart Bryant hit one in the water. Second-round leader Vijay Singh had already done his part, shooting a front-nine 40.
All of a sudden, the idea of Woods' fifth straight PGA Tour victory, sixth in a row worldwide and eighth in nine starts dating to last August became very real.
Tiger Woods hasn't been out of the running entering the final round of a PGA Tour event since last July.
"I've played myself right back in the tournament," Woods said after shooting 4-under-par 66 at the Bay Hill Club, which at the time had him two shots back of Watney but by the end of the day found him tied for the lead with Sean O'Hair, Bubba Watson, Bryant and Singh.
Woods, 32, might never admit it, but deep down he knows that even the greatest of the greats never had a batting average like this. The last time Woods teed it up on a Sunday without a realistic chance to win? Try July, at the British Open, where he tied for 12th.
Jack Nicklaus won seven of 19 tournaments in 1972, seven of 18 in 1973 and five of 16 in 1975. Arnold Palmer won eight of 21 starts in 1962 and seven of 20 in 1963.
Woods won eight of 21 in 1999, nine of 20 in 2000. But the last two years have been unreal: eight of 15 in 2006, seven of 16 in 2007.
He's been out of the top 10 just eight times in his past 41 starts dating back to the start of 2006, and has won 21 times around the world in that period.
Palmer, who raved about Woods on the eve of the tournament, finally ran into him Saturday in the locker room before play began. Woods had promised to give Arnie the needle about passing him on the all-time PGA Tour victory list, which he did when he won the Accenture Match Play Championship three weeks ago, his 63rd PGA Tour title.
"He's playing so well," Palmer said Saturday during the telecast, "he could double that."
"I don't think people really understand," Bryant said. "I think the guys on tour understand. I think the real avid golf fans understand it. Good golfers around the world understand it.
"But people in general, the average golf fan, cannot appreciate exactly what Tiger is doing. I mean, they appreciate it. I just don't think they understand the magnitude of what he's accomplishing right now."
Golf is not about winning and losing, but that is what Woods is turning it into at this point -- even though a second or a third or a fifth is hardly a "loss" in this game.
"If Tiger finished out of the top 10 in a golf tournament, he's had a horrendous tournament," said Stuart Appleby. "He's that on his game, that to finish out of the top 10 is pretty much impossible."
It certainly seemed possible Friday, when Woods walked off the course with a frustrating 68 that left him tied for 20th, seven strokes behind Singh. He wasn't happy with his iron play and was less thrilled with the Bay Hill greens, slower from a winter malady that was unavoidable but eating at Woods like the "nematodes" did the grass.
That is not like Woods, to get put off by something out of his control, something that was affecting everyone else, too. But Saturday, the greens were a bit faster, more to his liking, and he responded.
"You knew he was going to come out and play good," said Watson, a frequent practice-round companion of Woods'. "I sent him a text last night and said, 'You'd better get off your butt and starting doing something.' And he did."
Yes, he did.
Woods started fast, birdieing three of the first four holes. But then he cooled off, failing to birdie the par-5 sixth, making a bogey at the eighth. A birdie at the 12th was offset by a bogey at the 14th, and you figured that perhaps this simply was not going to be his week.
And history suggested this was no longer his kind of place. Although it was not Palmer's intent to neutralize Woods, he did take steps to make his pride and joy a sterner test, one with deeper rough and harder greens.
Woods fears no golf course, but deep rough can be his nemesis, especially when his driver goes astray.
Bay Hill may have yielded four victories from 2000 to 2003, but Woods struggled the last four years, breaking 70 just twice in 16 rounds and never finishing better than 20th. His 68 on Friday was just his third in the 60s since he won here in 2003, and it was a score with which he was less than happy.
But then Woods went on a mini-tear, stiffing irons for easy birdies at the 15th and 16th holes, his best shots of the day. He finished with two pars, then saw everyone wilt around him, leaving him atop the leaderboard, again.
"It's nice to have to play a good round of golf and win the tournament instead of having to play a great round to hopefully get myself back in the mix," Woods said of what his Saturday score did for his Sunday prospects. "I did the work today to get myself back in the tournament."
Woods is 42 of 45 on the PGA Tour with at least a share of the 54-hole lead, a position from which he last failed to deliver in 2004. He's won 12 straight since then, another amazing streak.
It does have to end sometime, right? Maybe not.
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.