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He's human

The Baltimore Sun

It was going to happen eventually. He simply couldn't win every time he teed it up (could he?) Still, it was somewhat remarkable yesterday morning when Australia's Geoff Ogilvy officially ended Tiger Woods' winning streak by wrapping up the rain-delayed CA Championship.

Ogilvy shot a 1-under-par 71 to end the somewhat absurd talk of Tiger's perfect season, finishing at 17-under, one shot better than Retief Goosen, Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk. Woods started the day five back and finished fifth.

Tiger is always the subject of much debate in my tiny household, and how you view him, I think, is a reflection of how you watch sports. If you're a Tiger Woods fan, you like to see dominance. Excellence. You want to see records smashed and the game humbled.

If you cheer for Tiger's opponents, you're someone who roots for the underdog, the Cinderella story -- with tears in the eyes, I guess -- to take down the most dominant athlete of our lifetime. I'm one of the latter. I like Phil Mickelson because I know what it's like to hit a shot off a hospitality tent or a tree. I don't have abs of steel. And, most likely, neither do you.

As we close in on the Masters, it's almost impossible to see anyone else winning the tournament other than Tiger. If he drives the ball well, you can start carving his name on the trophy right now. Assuming, however, no photographers snap pictures during his downswing. That happened today on the ninth tee, and Woods looked as if he might ask caddie Steve Williams to choke the offender with his bare hands.

But just for kicks, here are five golfers not named Mickelson that could sneak in and steal the trophy if Tiger sprays his drives into the trees as he did last year:

1. Vijay Singh: Other than the time he and Mickelson almost came to blows in the clubhouse because Vijay said Phil was leaving spike marks all over the greens, Singh really hasn't made much noise at Augusta recently. But he seems to have his mojo back after a disappointing 2007. I've always looked at Vijay like he was the John Updike of golf. Boring as he is, you can't deny his brilliance.

2. Adam Scott: Right now, fellow Aussie Ogilvy is having the career Scott was supposed to have. He has so much talent, it's difficult to pin down why he hasn't broken through yet. Wait, not really. His putting stinks. He played well this week on Doral's Blue Monster, but hasn't quite put it all together. I'm not sure whether to love him or hate him, though, because my wife thinks he's just about the most dreamy professional athlete alive. On second thought, curse you, Adam Scott.

3. Justin Rose: Rose is all kinds of cool, and not just because he's English. Last year, I watched him get a round of applause after coming out of a port-a-john at Woods' tournament in Washington, an awkward situation that he handled with a graceful smirk and a wave. That's style under pressure, in my opinion. Rose can hit it long, has great touch, putts well and finished fifth at the Masters last year. Once upon a time, Europeans used to thrive at the Masters, so perhaps it's time for a revival. If not Rose, look for Henrik Stenson to carry the burden of Europe's hopes.

4. Ernie Els: If I could spend an entire evening drinking beer with any professional athlete, "The Big Easy" would rank high on my list. He has played fairly well this year, and always seems like he's a threat at Augusta, where you have to hit it long and putt well to contend. His is the swing I dream about when I'm standing on the first tee, right before I duck-hook my Titleist into the next fairway, screaming FORE!

5. Fred Couples: The best thing about Couples -- other than the fact he shares his first name with my dad, my favorite golfing partner -- is that even at 48, you can't count him out. He doesn't wear a golf glove, his hair is more gray than brown, he rarely contends on a weekly basis on the PGA Tour, but inside the ropes at Augusta, he can still summon some magic. Had he not gagged that three-putt from 10 feet on the 14th green two years ago, there is a good chance he would have scared Mickelson down the stretch.

Of course, accidentally ordering a diet soda is probably enough to scare Phil, but I'll be pulling for him just the same.

kevin.vanvalkenburg@baltsun.com

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