Tiger's consistency rewarded in grand finale

Tiger Woods has other things on his mind, like winning his sixth tournament of the year. That could lead to his fifth straight PGA Tour money title and player of the year awards.

As it turns out, there is plenty at stake at this week's Tour Championship in Houston, despite the best efforts of Vijay Singh.

But another milestone is there for the taking, and all it will require of Woods is to finish the tournament. Since the 30-player Tour Championship has no 36-hole cut, he will break one of golf's most hallowed records by posting a 72-hole score.

Assuming that it happens, Woods will have made 114 consecutive cuts on the PGA Tour, breaking Byron Nelson's record of 113.

It is an odd record in that no player wants to settle for making the cut. But when you consider that only two other players in PGA Tour history, Nelson and Jack Nicklaus, made as many as 100 cuts in a row, the feat takes on more meaning.

And there is no doubt it has great meaning to the 27-year-old Woods, who has 39 PGA Tour victories, including eight major championships.

"Consistent,'' said Woods when asked what it says about him. "Not only consistent, but I fight pretty hard day in and day out. There are times when I should have missed the cut, but somehow I finagled a way to play on the weekend. That's just persistence. Also, a lot of luck goes with that, too. Some of those weeks I played bad enough where I definitely should have missed, but I also got lucky enough to where I was able to hang around.''

Woods' streak of 113 in a row dates to the 1998 Pebble Beach Pro-Am, where he withdrew after two rounds. The tournament was delayed by weather and completed later in the year, and Woods elected not to return. The PGA Tour considers that a missed cut. His only other missed cut on the PGA Tour in 145 starts was at the 1997 Canadian Open.

He has had his share of close calls, including this year's Masters, when he needed to get up and down from a greenside bunker and had to hole a sliding 4-foot putt to make the cut on the number.

Breaking Nelson's mark, however, won't come without a bit of interesting controversy, all of which Woods' acknowledges.

In fact, trying to compare Woods' streak to Nelson's, which occurred in the 1940s, and to Jack Nicklaus' in the early 1970s is not an easy task.

"Where was it tougher? It's probably a toss-up in many ways, I suppose,'' Nicklaus said earlier this year. "I mean, any time you make 100 cuts you've done pretty well. So how do you compare that?''

One way is in the number of no-cut events each player competed in, but for which he still was credited as having made a cut. For Woods, there have been 23 such events, and this will be the 24th. For Nicklaus, whose streak ran from 1970 to 1976, there were 10. For Nelson, who did it from 1941 to 1946, there were none.

In fact, in Nelson's day, most events did not have a cut, but players were credited with a cut by finishing "in the money.'' Often, that went to 25 players or less. Nelson, playing nearly every tournament during that time, never finished worse than 17th.

"That's one record I think mine would be better than, because 90 percent of the tournaments I played in only had 20 places,'' said Nelson, 91, during an interview last year. "The consistency is the one thing I liked most about my game.''

Nelson said he holds the cuts in higher regard than his record 11 straight victories and 18 overall in 1945. "Eleven in a row was very unusual,'' Nelson said. "You had to be lucky to do that. But when you play that many rounds and finish in the money in that many tournaments (in a row), luck doesn't figure into that at all.''

No one will dispute, however, that Woods plays against tougher competition and deeper fields. During much of Nelson's streak, players were serving in the military, diluting the talent. Woods competes, generally, against fields of 140-150 players, many of whom can win.

"There is no denying that we play in an era where the fields are a lot deeper,'' Woods said. "I think personally that there was a heck of a lot of pressure back in Byron's day because if you didn't make the cut, you weren't getting paid, period. And that's finishing sometimes in the top 15 or top 20 to get money. That's where the whole cut thing came along. You're either getting paid or not getting paid.''

Nelson played in an era of far less money and little endorsement income. Woods can miss every cut for the rest of his career and still be set financially. Nelson depended on good play for his income.

Woods, meanwhile, plays a limited schedule, picking and choosing his events to peak for the major championships.

But if Woods' streak is in any way tainted by the fact that so many events were played without a cut, what does it say that nobody else in this era is even close? The next best streak is 27 in a row by Ernie Els.

After Nicklaus' 105, the next best streaks are by Hale Irwin (86, 1975-78), Dow Finsterwald (72, 1955-58), Tom Kite (53, 1980-82) and Singh (53, 1995-98). Only Singh has played in the era of multiple no-cut events.

"What Tiger has done is fantastic,'' said U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk. "I think it's a great record considering he's played against very deep, very big fields. And it only takes a bad day, one round of 75, 76 to push you out of the cut line. And he seems to fight through it when he's playing poorly and gets it done.''

For what it's worth, Woods said it can be more difficult to make a cut than to win.

"Coming down the stretch in a tournament, at least you know it's going to be generally positive,'' he said. "But if you don't make the cut, there is no positive about that. Nothing. Nothing you can find that's positive about that. Even if you lose a tournament, you can still somehow flip it and rationalize it into a positive. But if you're down the road, you're down the road.''

There are no such worries this week, and for Woods that is OK. He'll have enough on his mind.

The Question
Can Woods, knowing he has to win, capture the Tour Championship, his only hope of winning the money title?

Woods can cap off another stellar year with a victory at the Tour Championship, but it might not be enough to win the money title. Singh, who leads by $768,494, can clinch it with a three-way tie for third.

Five Things To Watch
1. Singh has finished 1-2-1-2 in his past four events on the PGA Tour and has made it no secret he is gunning for the money title.

2. The field actually has 31 players because Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke was added. Clarke became a member of the PGA Tour when he won the NEC Invitational, although not all of his earnings counted. Because he had earned more than the 30th finisher, he was given a spot.

3. Of the 31 players in the field this week, 14 of them did not win a tournament, including 49-year-old Jay Haas and Nick Price. Others who did not win were Chad Campbell, Fred Funk, Chris DiMarco and Jerry Kelly. A victory here would sure be a sweet end to an impressive season.

4. Woods and Justin Leonard are the only current players with at least two full years on the PGA Tour to qualify for the tournament every year as a pro. Leonard's streak began in 1995, Woods' in 1996. Phil Mickelson has a similar streak that ended this year.

5. Nine of the 31 players in the field are 40 or older. Meanwhile, just four players in their 20s are entered.

Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at harig@sptimes.com.