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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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30 may mark Tiger's coming of age
Already an all-time golf great, 10-time majors winner Friday hits an age at which many legends start to peak.
By BOB HARIG
Published December 26, 2005
The hairline under his Nike cap is receding, and the aches and pains from years of pounding golf balls are more apparent. It used to be nothing for Tiger Woods to train by running 6 to 10 miles, then doing it again the next day.
"Now I need another day off," he said.
Ah, Tiger is getting old.
He turns 30 on Friday.
And next month, he will begin his 10th full season on the PGA Tour.
But that hardly suggests any sort of dropoff is imminent. Woods, who is coming off a six-victory season that saw him win two major championships, knows all about golf history.
"If you look at most of the guys' careers, it looks like their peak years are in their 30s," Woods said recently at the Target World Challenge in Thousand Oaks, Calif. "Hopefully that will be the case for me. Hopefully my 30s will be better than my 20s. That would be pretty neat to have happen."
And it would be pretty amazing. Because Woods put together in his 20s a run of excellence that has been surpassed by only six players in PGA Tour history during their entire careers.
Wood's 46 official wins rank seventh behind Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Byron Nelson and Billy Casper.
Woods' 10 major championships trail only Nicklaus' 18 on the preceding list. (Walter Hagen, who won 44 times, captured 11 majors.)
"If I play the way I know I can play, I think I can get there," Woods said. "But I have a lot of work ahead of me, and a lot of things I need to do to make myself peak at the right times and get all the things coming together like I did this year. This year, I put all the pieces together at the right time, four straight times."
Not only did Woods win the Masters and British Open in 2005, he contended at the U.S. Open, where he finished second by two shots to Michael Campbell, and at the PGA Championship, where he tied for fourth, two shots behind Phil Mickelson.
Although Woods pointed out that the competition is better than ever, he hits his 30th birthday as the undisputed No.1 player in the world.
And because golf is a game that allows players to prosper into their 30s and even their 40s, there is reason to believe his greatness can be sustained.
Nicklaus, who won 30 times before turning 30, enjoyed his greatest stretch after turning 31. From 1971 to 1973, Nicklaus won 19 times, including four majors. Nicklaus also won six majors after turning 35, including three after turning 40. One was the 1986 Masters, when Nicklaus was 46.
"How do you compare what he's doing, because nobody has ever done what he's doing," Nicklaus said this year. "He's dominated way beyond how anybody's ever dominated."
Woods still hits the ball a mile, averaging 316 yards off the tee to rank second on the PGA Tour. But he also has an excellent short game, is a clutch putter and excels at course management.
That is the biggest difference from the player who turned pro at age 20 in 1996 at the Greater Milwaukee Open.
"I had a lot of holes in my game," he said. "I wasn't a very good driver of the golf ball. My distance (control) was terrible with the short irons. I would fly it over a bunch of greens. And my putting was way too aggressive. I had holes in my game that I needed to rectify in order to be consistent week in and week out.
"All the great champions that have ever played, that's what they did. I didn't think my game was good enough to come out on tour to do that week in and week out, so I needed to make changes."
Woods has twice revamped his game. He did so in 1997 after winning the Masters, and the changes did not kick in until 1999. After winning seven of 11 major championships through the 2002 U.S. Open, he went through another change that saw him win just once in 2004 but rebound this year.
And yet there is still room for improvement. Woods ranked 188th on the tour this year in driving accuracy, hitting just 55 percent of the fairways.
Palmer is one who believes Woods will learn to manage his strength. And he also thinks that getting married and having a family can help rather than hinder Woods as he continues.
"Between now and 35 could be the absolute best years of his life," Palmer said. "It would be very easy for that to happen, meaning that he could double or triple what he has done in the past."
Palmer is proof. Between the age of 30 and 35, he earned 31 of his 62 PGA Tour titles. He also won six of his seven major championships after turning 30.
Woods is on pace to break Nicklaus' major record of 18 and Snead's PGA Tour record of 82. If he continues on the same majors pace, he'd get to 19 by his 39th birthday. And if he were to keep winning 4.6 tournaments per season, he would pass Snead in early 2014 after turning 38.
Of course, this depends on staying healthy, one of the reasons Woods made changes in his swing.
"The end result is I've relieved some of the stress there, and I feel better day to day," he said.
How long will he keep going?
"When my best isn't good enough anymore, when I can't get up there and tee it up and feel in my own heart I'm playing my best and I can't win ... that's when I walk," Woods said. "I've been to the top, where if I play my best, I know I can win. (If) all of a sudden my best isn't good enough, why am I out here, I'll go home."
For now, Woods is looking forward to some down time. He said he will not compete in the 2006 season-opening Mercedes Championship next week in order to give himself a longer break. A big birthday bash is planned, but Woods certainly doesn't sound pensive about turning 30.