The streak is dead. Long live the Streak. Golf is a mercurial game, and notoriously fickle. Ask Tiger Woods, who seems to have been dumped by the game he loves.
Woods had six straight victories on Tour and was about to make it seven—all America was certain—with another amazing comeback, at last month's Buick Invitational. Then Phil Mickelson did a NASDAQ on the closing holes, Woods did a Dow Jones and the Streak was over.
A week later Woods was poised to strike again, lurking three shots off the lead going into the final round of the Nissan Open. But then he bogeyed three straight holes on the front nine, and instead of starting a new streak, he watched one end. Kirk Triplett, who had never won in his 10-year Tour career, became the champ.
Woods figured to stop what was suddenly a streak of missed opportunities at last week's Andersen Consulting World Match Play Championship at La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, Calif. Two days of torrential rain softened the 7,046-yard course, making it a big hitter's paradise, and Woods, as those of you not still hiding in your Y2K shelters know, is the biggest hitter of them all. The setup was made to order for him, and the other 63 players in the elite field seemed to know it. Woods's first five opponents were a cumulative two under par against him, even though everyone was allowed to lift, clean and all but tee up their balls in the soggy fairways. Woods was 21 under and won all five matches with varying degrees of ease.
In his first-round match Woods faced Michael Campbell, who has won four times in Australia and Asia since November and was supposed to be the world's second-hottest player. He was 3 down to Woods after four holes, then missed a two-foot gimme on the 6th and lost 5 and 4. Shigeki Maruyama of Japan, who had replied, "No chance," when someone asked him if he could catch Tiger at the Buick, might also have been forecasting the result of his third-round match with Woods last week. He was blitzed 4 and 3. In the quarterfinals British Open champ Paul Lawrie went 2 up on Woods with eight holes to play, then couldn't have found a fairway or a green if his life depended on it and even chunked a chip like a 14 handicapper. He lost one up. In last Saturday's semifinals Davis Love III failed to get a shot out of a bunker, something he probably doesn't do more than once every two years. Not that it mattered, considering that Woods had two eagles and four birdies during the 5-and-4 drubbing.
After all Woods had done, beating Darren Clarke—a teddy bear of a man from Northern Ireland who was ranked 19th in the world—in the 36-hole final seemed like a sure thing. Only a few people weren't buying, and they all had a rooting interest. Before the tournament Louis Martin, the commissioner of the Southern Africa tour, had placed a wager on Clarke at 66-to-1 odds. Before the semifinals Butch Harmon, the swing coach who works for Woods and Clarke, had predicted that the Irishman would smoke No. 2-ranked David Duval like a salmon, and he did, 4 and 2. Clarke's manager, Chubby Chandler, also had an inkling that his man wasn't going to roll over when he saw Clarke heading back out to the practice range on Saturday night despite a long day against Hal Sutton and then Duval.
Martin, Harmon and Chandler were probably the only three people on the planet who weren't surprised when the Showdown at Sure Tiling turned into an ambush. Clarke put on one of the finest displays of golf in the last decade or so to whip Woods 4 and 3. Clarke had 12 birdies and a lone bogey in 33 holes, a near perfect performance. "He did to Tiger what Tiger has been doing to everybody else," said Harmon. "He kicked his butt and looked him right in the eye while he was doing it." Woods confirmed the worst. "Darren flat outplayed me," he said.
Woods was even outcooled by Clarke, Here's what was said in the van that carried Clarke back to the clubhouse on Saturday after he had destroyed Duval.
Clarke: "What time am I off tomorrow?"
Clarke: "Why so early?"
Chandler: "It's 36 holes."
Clarke: "Is it?"
Harmon, in the strange position of having two of his players meet in the final, at first stayed with Woods on the practice range before Sunday's match. When Woods went off to chip and putt, Harmon walked toward Clarke, who laughingly waved him away. "You don't need to come down," he said. "I'm hitting it perfect."