His colleagues would disagree. "He's the next Michael Jordan," Loren Roberts said at Kapalua. "He's got that stratospheric, famous-around-the-world persona."
Woods continues to amaze and thrill. On Friday at Kapalua, in the vigorous trade wind that buffeted Maui for most of the tournament, he hit a tee shot on the 373-yard 12th hole that rolled past a startled Jim Furyk, who was putting out, and off the back of the green. On Saturday, when his game looked less solid, Woods tied Els for the third-round lead—and practiced for the finish—by eagling the 663-yard 18th hole.
But it was Tiger's play on Sunday that showed why the comparisons to Jordan are apt. On the final hole Woods hit a brilliant three-wood from the sloping fairway, and his ball rolled to 18 feet, sending the grandstand crowd into a frenzy. Els then hit a two-iron to 12 feet, blowing minds. Tiger putted first, holing out for eagle and arm-pumping his way across the green. Els answered by rolling in his own eagle putt, forcing the playoff.
They then played 18 again, Els making an easy two-putt birdie. This time Woods had to hole a testy 10-footer to stay alive—which he did, of course, sending giddy spectators racing in all directions looking for the next playoff hole. It finally ended at sunset on the low-altitude 1st green, where Woods made an uphill, sidegrain 35-footer that Els couldn't match. "He's 24," Els said. "He's probably going to be bigger than Elvis when he's in his 40s." Later, Woods slipped on the winner's jacket (a $3,200 silk number by Brioni), acknowledged his $522,000 first-prize check and jetted off with his girlfriend, 22-year-old Joanna Jagoda, to spend a couple of lazy weeks at home. He won't try to extend his winning streak until later this month, when he's expected to play in the Phoenix Open.
"The hardest thing to maintain in my life is balance," Woods said in the previous century. "You have to make time for certain things." Clearly he has found that balance, but could something cause him to lose it? Say, a surfeit of money? A diminished will to win? A renewal of Tigermania? His answer: "No. I have too much pride to let that happen."
As for the winning streak, Tiger pointed out before he left Hawaii that his five-tournament burst was still only belt-high to Nelson's 11. Furthermore, Nelson got all his wins in one calendar year. Tiger, betwixt his August 1999 victory in the NEC Invitational and his win at Kapalua, traveled to three continents, had eye surgery, helped win a Ryder Cup for the U.S., went Christmas shopping at a mall, played exhibitions, won a lot of silly-season money and finished 10th in the Williams World Challenge, an unofficial tournament he hosted the week before the Mercedes. "That was last year," Woods said of victories one through four. "This is a whole new year."
Maybe so. But in Maui it still looked like the Year of the Tiger.