For all his victories, year was 'a loss' for Tiger

For all his victories, year was 'a loss' for Tiger
Tiger Woods hugs his caddie, Steve Williams, after winning the 135th British Open, at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, U.K., on Sunday, July 23. Woods was overcome with emotion after winning his first title since the death of his father Earl. (Dave Pinegar / TGPL)
Comprehend the incomprehensible -- Tiger Woods' six consecutive PGA Tour victories in a sport in which it's difficult to win even one, his mind-bending victory rate of 53.3% this year in a sport in which 10% means excellence, his two major titles for the second straight year -- and you have?

"A loss," Tiger Woods said.

He'd just made amoeba of the world's elite golfers. He'd just won the American Express Championship by eight strokes at a gasp-inducing 23 under par. He'd just completed a Sunday flush with rain but sapped of suspense.

He'd just fielded a question about whether 2006 marks his best year.

"I mean, people asked me that there on the 18th here, how do you consider this year," he said. "I consider it as a loss. In the grand scheme of things, golf, it doesn't even compare to losing a parent."

Golf intellectuals might view 2006 as the year Woods spent the summer and early fall deepening his father's astounding contribution to sports, a notion upheld by wowed fans at the Grove course north of London. Woods will always view 2006 as the year he lost Earl Woods, 74, to cancer on May 3.

So he's not bowled over with rapture.

The unavoidable comparison of 2006 to 2000, the year Woods went vintage and won nine tournaments, including three majors?

"People want to compare it to the past, and I'm trying to get better in the future, not the past," he said.

His belief that his streak actually ended when he lost on Sept. 14 in the World Match Play Championship in England, a European Tour event?

"Yeah, it did," he said.

The thought he could nibble at Byron Nelson's unassailable 61-year-old record of 11 PGA Tour wins in a row?

"Let's just talk about that if that day ever happens," he said.

The second six-tournament winning streak of his career, a stretch matched only by Nelson, Ben Hogan in 1948 and Woods himself in 1999-2000, will get him talking a bit.

Contrasting with 2000, he said, "My iron game is better, no doubt about that. I have a lot more shots and I'm able to control my ball better now."

Asked if he can win the 2007 Grand Slam, a notion suddenly seeming less outlandish, he said, "I always think I can do it."

Flexing his capacity to remember a slight, he referenced his "slump" of 2003 and said, "I think it's interesting how I was getting ripped for making my swing changes, now here we are. That's why I made those changes. It's nice to have the opportunity to do the things I know I can do in this game of golf."

With his most dominant victory since the Bay Hill Invitational in 2003, when he won by 11, it's clear he can snuff out a whole weekend's prospective suspense. He can turn a lucrative tournament of 63 players who qualified through difficult channels into a wire-to-wire exhibit of one 30-year-old's artwork.

He can strike the ball so cleanly it pleases him, hit 36 consecutive greens in regulation from Friday through Saturday to the middle of Sunday with two rain delays.

In this game of golf, he can make other proud professional golfers describe a Sunday mission for second place.

"To finish the day off," Ian Poulter said, "I was aware that Jim [Furyk] was really the guy to catch for second place. I just hung in there on the back nine."

He hung in there until his closing three-footer on No. 18 lifted him to the attainable glory of second and by itself hiked his earnings by about $250,000.

In this game of golf, Woods can dredge three uses of "impressed" or "impressive" from a playing partner.

"I haven't played with him in a long time," said Adam Scott, who tied Poulter for second. "I was really impressed with the way he played in the wind, tough conditions, and he controlled everything well, hit lots of drives in the fairway. I was impressed. He was totally in control, extended his lead even better. You know, really impressive."

And he can birdie the 72nd hole and have it seem a dud. That's because he'd eagled No. 18 on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. On Sunday, just before dusk, he stood below the green off to the right beneath a ridge, half occluded, lying two on the par-five hole, needing to chip upward and in for eagle.

He couldn't, but the audience wound up roaring anyway as his chip rushed three feet past the cup then halted as if equipped with brakes.

He knocked in the putt, then made off for an October break from golf. He wouldn't say how long. Visibly exhausted after an 11-week stretch that began in England (British Open) and ended in England (American Express), and included six titles plucked from eight events in three countries, he stood by a courtesy car in the dark for a last interview, with BBC radio.

Looking back on 2006, he said, "I've never gone through anything like that. Nothing that anyone can ever say can ever prepare you for that."

He referred not to victory but to loss.