The stupefying symmetry wasn’t lost on anyone, especially the principal player in one of golf’s greatest, long-running accomplishments.
Moments after Tiger Woods saw his incomprehensible 142-event cut streak end 12 years ago this week at the Byron Nelson Championship, he put into context one of the most notable achievements in sports.
The old record for in-the-money longevity on the PGA Tour had been held by Nelson.
“It is kind of ironic, isn’t it?” a stoic Woods said.
The legendary Nelson, whose 52 Tour victories included 11 in a row in 1945, died 16 months later.
This week marks the end of another era at Nelson’s namesake event in Irving, Texas. Starting next year, it will move from the Las Colinas complex, where it has been held since 1986.
Few moments were more memorable than when Woods’ feat of payday consistency ended on a breezy Friday the 13th in May 2005. For those who witnessed it, the stunning setback for the game’s dominant player prompted shock and awe.
The run would be compared with baseball ironmen Joe DiMaggio and Cal Ripken. From February 1998 to May 2005, Woods never missed a weekend, obliterating Nelson’s record of 113 straight finishes in the money.
Nobody saw it coming. Woods had won the Masters in a playoff with Chris DiMarco shortly before he showed up to play in Dallas. He struggled in his warmup Friday morning, however, then teed it up on the tight Cottonwood Valley course, one of the two tracks used by host Four Seasons Resort for the first two rounds.
“I was just trying to fly by night and kind of bandage my way through to the finish,” Woods said after closing with a 2-over 72 and 1-over 141 total.
Witnesses needed a cold compress. Some 1,500 fans ringed the final green, most of them oblivious to what was at stake because of the absence of leaderboards on the secondary Cottonwood course. Woods laced a long iron down the middle off the tee, then pulled a 7-iron. Few knew that he needed a par to make the cut.
He backed off twice as the wind swirled, then deposited the ball onto the downslope of a greenside bunker. His improbable sand shot rolled 15 feet past the hole. In the locker room, Jesper Parnevik told The Associated Press that players were making bets that Woods would deliver, as always.
“Guys were offering $1,000 that he would make it,” Parnevik said.
One of Woods’ playing competitors, Kevin Sutherland, said he turned to his caddie and said, “You know he’s going to make this.”
For the first time in forever, he didn’t. Over time, as Woods’ feats became the stuff of lore, the cut streak was recognized as an extraordinary run of consistency that hasn’t been sniffed since. The active mark for consecutive cuts on the PGA Tour is 15. Woods’ run lasted parts of eight seasons.
His coach at the time, Hank Haney, said this week that the streak is a highlight on Woods’ resume, though it’s rarely a focal point. After all, Woods won 79 Tour titles, including 14 major championships, to rank second all-time in both categories.
“[The streak was] probably as good as any, but people talk about wins, and wins in majors is the only standard people seem to pay attention to,” Haney said.
Has it been under-appreciated? Some point out that Woods competed in 31 no-cut events during the run, but that still left 111 in which the weekend was not assured. It’s defensibly as heady of as achievement in Woods’ foot-thick annals, along with:
· In what was dubbed the Tiger Slam, Woods simultaneously held all four major titles, plus The Players Championship trophy, in 2000-01.
· In one stretch, he won 45 of 47 events on the PGA Tour in which he held the outright 54-hole lead, establishing himself as the most coolly efficient, intimidating closer in golf history.
· He won six straight USGA titles – three U.S. Junior and three U.S. Amateur – before turning pro. Woods long has considered it one of his headiest achievements, so nobody is arguing.
· He spent a record 683 weeks atop the world ranking. The 19 others who have held the top position since the ranking was unveiled in 1986 have amassed a combined 941 weeks at No. 1. Marinate in that data for a spell.
· Since 1981, four other players have won five-plus times in a PGA Tour season. Woods did it 10 times.
As word spread around Las Colinas that Woods was engaged in only the second Friday-night trunk slam of his unparalleled career, admiration among his peers soared another notch, if that’s possible.
“That record will never be broken,” Robert Allenby said.
Woods routinely has eschewed invitations to list his accomplishments in any particular order – it’s a subjective argument that makes for great conversations on Twitter or around the clubhouse bar – but he tried to wrap his head around the run of 142 paychecks in a row before he hit the road on May 13, 2005.
“I think this is [attributable] more to intestinal fortitude than anything else,” he said after signing his card that day. “Days when you just don't have it, you don't mail it in. You don't pack it in. You give it everything you've got.
“You grind it out. I don't care what kind of game you have. You somehow try and find a way to get it done. You've seen me do it over the years. I should have missed many a cut by now, but you somehow figure out a way. That's part of my attitude and belief, that you should always have the switch on. You can't turn it on and off.”
As the light switch flickers with regard to Woods’ career and the Nelson’s lengthy run at Las Colinas, that’s both a sentiment and an achievement well worth recalling.