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If only we could have seen Tiger take over the tour

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© St. Petersburg Times, published February 8, 2000

Channel 10 robbed us.

Golf's meteorite, Tiger Woods, was scorching Pebble Beach's gorgeous, historic final seven holes. Electricity so nuclear it melted PGA Tour rookie Matt Gogel. Wouldn't it have been memorable, my Tampa Bay neighbors, to see Woods birdieing the 12th, topped by his astonishingly hole-out of a wedge to eagle the 15th, then birdies on the 16th and 18th?

Gogel, who led by by five strokes at Monday halftime, began smelling smoke from Tiger's blitz. He coughed. Poor kid. He would disintegrate like a tulip in a tornado.

When the Gogel trauma subsided, he trailed by two strokes, Tiger teeth marks on Matt's soul. Woods shot 31 on the final nine. Nine better than his competition.

Tampa Bay eyes couldn't watch.

It's now the Tiger Tour. He's won six straight, a run more remarkable than Byron Nelson's legendary 11 in a row in 1945. Who says? Lord Byron himself.

"Tiger's competition," the 88-year-old Nelson said a few weeks ago, "is far more extensive than I ever faced. His streak is much more amazing. Tiger does things us old guys would've never dared imagine."

Golf talent is deeper than deep. Most every week, dozens of lesser-knowns shatter par on something now called the tour. That's just the minor leagues. Rivals for Woods keep arising from Spain, Japan, Canada, Zimbabwe, Australia, New Zealand and Scotland.

It figured, as viable contenders keep mushrooming, that no golfer could equal the bygone strangleholds of Nicklaus, Hogan, Nelson and fellow icons. Now we know somebody who can. Woods keeps getting better. Smarter. Tougher. He has added 15 lean, powerful pounds since last February.

I love watching.

* * *

It's wonderfully exhilarating, even for a hacker's heart, when we can witness the mightiest of athletic splendor. Super Bowl XXXIV went sizzling into that category. What about the Tiger Masters of a couple of years ago? Will we ever forget the appeal of seeing Mark McGwire crush that record 62nd homer?

Monday became special.

We tolerate so much small-time garbage on TV, awaiting all-too-infrequent gems that can be eternally treasured. This wasn't just a golfer doing something amazing, it was Tiger Woods. A unique, dynamic talent who could become history's best.

Tampa Bay missed it.

Because some electronic wizard at Channel 10/WTSP decided we should be served something called Real TV at 4:30, followed by local news stretched into a 90-minute format, you and I were bilked out of an opportunity to see Woods coming like a heroic bullet train. Even after Channel 10 showed the Pro-Am all weekend.

Heidi lives.

Don't just howl at your pals. Call the Channel 10 switchboard. Write letters. Send e-mails. Let them know how much you enjoyed Real TV during Monday afternoon hours when today's biggest name in sports was executing the mother of all rallies.

Let that be a lesson to all us media brains. Don't ever tune out a tournament until some PGA Tour coroner had declared Woods officially dead. Even then, watch for his wiggles.

I'm from a crusty old school that figured nobody would ever threaten the lifetime glory of Jack Nicklaus. Even when the Golden Bear proclaimed Woods might win more Masters tournaments than "me and Arnold (Palmer) combined," which is nine.

Woods has plenty still to do. He has won two professional majors, a Masters plus a PGA Championship. Nicklaus bagged 18. But the kid is barely 24. Momentum keeps escalating.

Tiger's work in 1999, with seven wins in 10 starts including an unforgettable PGA Championship duel with Spain's baby jewel, Sergio Garcia, was golf's most startling season since Ben Hogan ruled the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open in 1953.

Here's the whopper question: With all the Woods fortunes, all his trophies, his runaway global fame, his Orlando mansion, will the young man's Herculean drive continue at optimum speed for another generation? Duplicating the unrelenting push of Nicklaus, Palmer, Player, Watson and some immortal others?

With skyscraping athletes, competitive mentality can indeed keep motoring in the highest of gears, no matter their big conquests or the height of their money tree. Basketball saw such ongoing spirit from Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.

Cal Ripken has it. So did John Elway and Joe Montana. Wayne Gretzky. Dan Marino. We're getting a whiff now from Andre Agassi. If, by the year 2015, the Woods desire has not severely ebbed, it is not unfathomable that he could leave Nicklaus in his wake.

Never thought I would say that.

Matt Gogel knows the feeling.

Shame on you, Channel 10.

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