Print and Go Back Golf [Print without images]

Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Triple dipping in the desert

As the top of the world rankings have featured a progressively more European flair over the past several months, events on the European Tour schedule have looked more and more attractive to golf fans.

Trivia question

Dustin Johnson goes for his third straight AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am win this week. Who is the last player not named Tiger Woods to win a tour event three straight times? (Answer below.)

This week, the European Tour will have something the PGA Tour did not feature a single time in 2010. The Omega Dubai Desert Classic will feature the top three players in the world: Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Tiger Woods.

Take all the non-major, non-WGC events out of the equation, since these are events sanctioned by both the PGA and European Tour. Amazingly, the PGA Tour -- almost universally regarded as the premier pro golf circuit on the planet -- did not feature a single event in 2010 that had all three of the current top-three players in the Official World Golf Rankings.

According to the European Tour itself, this marks the first time since 1994 that each of the top three have been in the same European Tour event -- including those same qualifiers (non-major, non-WGC).

Six of the top 10 players in the world are Europeans playing predominantly on the European Tour. A win this week for Kaymer, and we'll have a new European as No. 1 in the world.

A win by a non-American at Augusta this April would make it four straight majors won by players from outside the U.S., and five of the past six. The only time that we've seen four straight non-American major champions since World War II was in 1994, when no American player won a major. Never in that span have we seen five straight majors played without an American winner.

And yet, with all this European power, it isn't hard for many golf fans to imagine that scenario taking place in 2011.

The old No. 1 in the world, Tiger Woods, has had a great deal of success in Dubai throughout his career. Tiger has played the event five times, won it twice, and never finished outside the top-5; he's played just one round worse than par out of 20 in his career. His scoring average is 67.9 in the event, and he won the tournament the last time he played it in 2008.

Woods has enjoyed enormous success in smaller worldwide events like this one over the course of his career. Since 2000, Tiger has started 19 events held outside the United States that were not major championships or WGC tournaments. Tiger has won nine of them, finished in the top-5 16 of 19 times, and finished outside the top-10 just twice.

Of course, this isn't the Tiger Woods of old. The last comparable event to this one (played outside the U.S., not a major) was last year's JBWere Australian Masters, in an admittedly less daunting field. That was also the last time Tiger teed it up in an event and was the defending champion. Woods surged on Sunday there with a 65, but finished three shots back of winner Stuart Appleby.

Two weeks ago at Woods' home course/ATM machine Torrey Pines, Tiger 2.0 looked like the Woods we've come to expect the past 14 months during the weekend. After firing back-to-back 69s to start the event, Tiger was over par on both Saturday and Sunday. To put that into perspective: In Woods' first 45 career rounds at the now-named Farmers Insurance Open, Woods had just 1 round over par.

Winning an event three straight times on the PGA Tour is apparently as difficult as it sounds.

Dustin Johnson will try to do that this week at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. The back-to-back winner almost won his first major championship at last summer's U.S. Open there, too. Johnson held a 3-shot lead heading into the final round before famously evaporating before our eyes with a front-nine 42 on Sunday.

Let's try to put winning a PGA Tour event three straight times into perspective. It's been done 25 different times throughout the history of the PGA Tour, dating back to Young Tom Morris winning the British Open four straight times starting in 1868.

But since the 1980s, it's been a far less frequent occurrence, especially if you consider that basically one name appears in the record book next to the feat during that time frame -- repeatedly.

Tiger Woods has won an event three or more straight times on six different occasions in his career. Since 1981, Woods is one of only two players to do it even once. The other: Stuart Appleby, who won 3 straight at Kapalua from 2004 to 2006. Appleby's accomplishment is absent from the PGA Tour record book -- an earlier version of Numbers Game reflected that mistake.

Tiger is the only player since Gene Sarazen in the 1920s to win an event four straight times -- and he's done it twice.

Trivia answer

Question: Dustin Johnson goes for his third straight AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am win this week. Who is the last player not named Tiger Woods to win a tour event three straight times?

Answer: Stuart Appleby, who won at Kapalua 3 straight times from 2004-06.

Since 1960 to 2000, the list of players to have won an event three straight times looks like the register from the World Golf Hall of Fame. Arnold Palmer won the Texas Open from 1960-62 and the Phoenix Open from 1961-63. Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller and Tom Watson are the other three to pull it off, in addition to the six times Tiger has accomplished the feat.

A win by Dustin Johnson this weekend would put him in some heady company. It would also be another precursor to what golf fans expect will be a fantastic professional career.

Justin Ray has been a studio researcher for ESPN since June 2008 and is the lead researcher for "The Scott Van Pelt Show." Send comments and suggestions to