Spring break is over, fellas. It officially ended when Tiger Woods hugged the Duchess of York. Timeout for a double-take. Woods won again? For the fifth time in 16 tournaments since turning pro? After taking a month off following his win at the Masters? Yes, yes and yes.
Was that really Fergie next to the 18th green at the TPC at Four Seasons-Las Colinas in Irving, Texas, on Sunday? Was she standing in line to get a Tiger-hug from the winner? And has she really slimmed down, or is it just that TV makes her look thinner? Yes, yes and let's go to the replay.
If you get the feeling we're not in Kansas anymore, Toto, you are so right. Woods has taken the PGA Tour to a new address, a strange and wonderful place where golfers hang out with Kev and Mike (as in Costner and Jordan) and chat with Oprah and Barbara Walters and tell the President, not now, man, I'm going to Mexico for a couple of days.
The massive crowds that watch Woods's every move wherever he plays seem to know that the 21-year-old kid with the meltdown smile is already a way better golfer than anyone else. What started as Tigermania has evolved into something else. Tigerfrenzy? Tigerhysteria? How about Tigershock?
The overnight TV ratings for Sunday's final round showed a 158% jump from a year ago, up from a 2.4 rating with a six share to a 6.2 rating and a 14 share, despite going head-to-head with Game 7 of the New York Knicks- Miami Heat series. Tigershock, indeed. "He won three U.S. Juniors and three Amateurs, and he steps out on the big circuit and continues to win," says Dan Foreman, who missed the cut this year in Augusta but hung around so he could follow Woods on the weekend. "It's overwhelming in some respects. Words don't do him justice. I don't know how he does it, but he's doing it."
There were so many fans at Las Colinas that the GTE Byron Nelson Classic cut off ticket sales after 100,000 one-day badges and 50,000 weekly passes were sold. And when Tiger committed to play this week at Colonial in nearby Fort Worth, ticket sales were capped there, too. Back-to-back sellouts in golf? This must be Augusta, Toto.
Woods lived up to all expectations. Even though he didn't play anywhere near his best, he tied the tournament scoring record (17-under-par 263, set by Ernie Els in 1995). That's the scary part. "Nobody's unbeatable," Lee Rinker said after the third round, when he trailed Woods by two shots. Woods was beatable at the Nelson, but nobody seemed able to lay a hand on him.
"Last year I predicted Tiger would win five times and earn over $2 million this year," says Paul Stankowski, whose tie for fifth at Las Colinas was his 10th finish of 14th or better this season. "My friends were like, 'You think so?' I said, 'Trust me, guys. He'll win a lot.' But I might've set the numbers a little low."
More scary stuff: Woods led the tournament stats in putting and driving distance, averaging 309.5 yards. Phil Mickelson was second longest, about 18 yards shorter, and only three other players were within 20 yards of Tiger. That lakes us to the scariest part of all. Woods didn't dominate because of his length. He had to maneuver his ball around Las Colinas with its doglegs, fairway bunkers, water hazards and tight landing areas. And he didn't win because of perfect technique. (He was so worried about his swing that he had Butch Harmon, his coach, make an unscheduled 4�-hour drive from his home in Houston for an emergency lesson on Sunday morning.) Woods put a full Nelson on the Byron Nelson with his short game and course management. "Winning like this means a lot, it really does," Woods said. "It shows that if you think well and have a good short game, you can win. Ask Nicklaus how many times he's had his A game in a major. He would say none. He's never, ever had it. He always managed his game well. I did that this week. I had to rely on my mind and my short game to get me through."
Rinker, a 36-year-old former club pro who clinched a spot on Tour in 1998 by finishing two shots behind Woods in second, wasn't buying Tiger's rap. "I think he's closer to his A game than he's letting on," he said. "What's his A game—40 under par? But there's no doubt that he's impressive. If he's on, he could shoot in the 50s."