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Best Closers Ever
How extraordinary is Tiger Woods's record of winning 13 straight Tour events in which he has either held or shared the lead going into the final round? Considering that the third-round leader comes out on top less than four out of 10 times, it is quite extraordinary. In fact, it has never been equaled.
Only Johnny Miller has come close to matching Woods. From 1972 to '75 he won 11 consecutive tournaments in which he led after three rounds. Miller's mark at the beginning of his career, when he successfully closed on 12 of his first 13 chances, a .923 winning clip, also approaches Tiger's current record of 13 of 14 (.929).
Miller won the first time he had a third-round lead, at the 1971 Southern, but lost the second time, at the '72 Crosby. His 11 straight front-running victories followed. Miller ended his career 15-5 (.750) as a closer.
The Tour has been keeping track of such things since 1970, and in that time no one else who has held the third-round lead at least 10 times has come close to matching Woods or Miller. Jack Nicklaus went 24-11 (.686) from 1970 to the '82 Bay Hill Classic, the last time he had a third-round lead, and his longest streak was seven in a row. Although Lee Trevino and Tom Watson both had eight-tournament streaks, Trevino was 16-9 (.640) and Watson 26-19 (.578) overall.
The worst front-runner ever? That dubious title is held by Greg Norman, who has brought home the bacon on only nine of 24 (.375) occasions.
Tiger-like entrances are rare in pro golf, but the bet here is that Grace Park makes one. As Woods was in 1996, Park is a 20-year-old U.S. Amateur and NCAA champ with a classic swing and power to burn. At last year's U.S. Open, the 5'6", 125-pound Park led the field in driving distance by nine yards. In 1997, as a high school senior, Park beat Michelle McGann in a long-drive contest. Before last year's NCAAs, Park whipped other collegians with a wind-aided shot of 342 yards.
Park, who opens her season at this week's Subaru Memorial in Naples, Fla., is also as ambitious as Woods. Asked if her goal was to become this year's Rookie of the Year, Park said, "I'm actually shooting to win Player of the Year. I like to set my goals as high as possible, and that's pretty high."
After turning pro last summer Park won five of 10 events on the Futures tour, earning enough—like Woods—to bypass Q school. In just her second LPGA start as a pro she tied for second.