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Luck or skill?

The Baltimore Sun

As if it were a tale written by Damon Runyon, the bookend winners in the eight-horse parlay were named Isn't that Lucky and A Dream Come True, according to a wire service story. A spokesman for the famous English bookmaker shop, William Hill, said the new millionaire, Fred Craggs, 60, from Yorkshire, was unaware that he had just won a king's ransom when he showed up later to make more bets.

In contrast, Tiger Woods on Sunday showed what it means to be so good as to leave absolutely nothing to chance.

Woods won the Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona over Stewart Cink, 8 and 7 in the 36-hole final. That's the equivalent of winning a football game by four or five touchdowns, to put it kindly. Not to put poor Cink in too harsh a light - the fellow tied for sixth in last year's British Open at Carnoustie - Woods was under par on nearly half the holes (14 of 29).

So far this year, Woods has won the two PGA Tour events he has entered and a third in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, that's part of the PGA European Tour. Reaching back to last year, he has won four straight PGA events and six of his past seven (and finished second in the one he didn't win in that stretch). Among his wins in 2007 was the PGA Championship, and he tied for second in the Masters and the U.S. Open.

Woods seems destined to exceed just about every golf milestone there is. His win yesterday, his 63rd, moved him one ahead of Arnold Palmer and one short of Ben Hogan on the all-time PGA victory list. Jack Nicklaus (73) and Sam Snead (82) are certainly within reach.

But the granddaddy number in golf is 11, as in Byron Nelson's 11 straight tour wins in 1945 and 18 overall that year. It's a record that comes with the asterisk that it was set during World War II and all that implies about the caliber of the competition, but Nelson still played against the likes of Snead and Hogan that year.

Now, just two PGA events into the young golf year, Woods was asked about the prospects of a perfect season. Woods wasn't arrogant (he never is), but he was direct: "That's my intent. That's why you play. If you don't believe you can win an event, don't show up."

As challenging as the New England Patriots' attempt at a perfect NFL season was, the idea of a golfer playing in any reasonable number of pro events and winning them all is simply unthinkable. But what about the Nelson record? The 11 straight?

Woods won his final six PGA Tour events in 2006 and the first one in 2007. He won six straight from 1999 through the beginning of 2000. So he is capable of putting together long streaks. And some believe he is playing the best golf of his life.

But the task of matching Nelson's marathon run is so daunting, the competition so fierce and the vagaries of the game so devilish that even a golf colossus such as Woods would need that "good" he regularly carries in his golf bag - plus a dose of the lightning-strike luck of the fortunate Mr. Craggs.

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