TIGER WOODS makes history so often that trying to keep up with all the numbers can be bewildering. With his record 8-and-7 victory over Stewart Cink in Sunday's 36-hole final of the Match Play Championship, Woods won his 63rd PGA Tour tournament, exceeding Arnold Palmer's career tally and creeping within one of Ben Hogan for third place on the alltime list. That much is not in dispute. But in the golf salon there is some disagreement about how many consecutive tournaments Woods has won, an increasingly relevant debate because Tiger is playing such astounding golf right now that he seems primed to make a run at the game's most hallowed record, Byron Nelson's 11-tournament winning streak of 1945.
We can all agree that the Match Play was Woods's fourth consecutive PGA Tour victory dating back to last year, but during Sunday's coverage NBC credited Woods with six wins in a row. That's because in December he won the Target World Challenge, an unofficial event with a 16man field, and last month he prevailed at the Dubai Desert Classic, a sanctioned European tour event featuring a number of top players. When SI asked Woods on Sunday whether those tournaments should count toward his streak, he demurred, "I'll let you handle that." So we will. The Target is a glorified exhibition and can't be taken seriously, but given how global golf has become, Dubai deserves to be recognized in any pursuit of Nelson. After all, the first victory in Lord Byron's run, the Miami Four Ball, can be considered suspect because it was a team event and he had a partner, Jug McSpaden, to lean on.
Anyway, it is Woods's unrelenting brilliance that makes such abstract discussions necessary. We've already been down this road with him about what is and isn't a Grand Slam, in 2000--01, when he won four straight major championships spread across two seasons. Back then a compromise was struck in the nomenclature: Woods's epic achievement is now known simply as the Tiger Slam. It takes words as well as numbers to express Woods's effect on history.