Can Tiger Woods run the table?
Bart Bryant won $626,400 in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, so it's not like he doesn't have some incentive to continue his golfing career. Vijay Singh got $301,600 for finishing in a tie for third, and he'll keep playing, too.
Life is good on the PGA Tour, where the hotels are five-star, the food is gourmet, and there's always a courtesy car waiting at the airport. The money's good, too, so good that last year 99 players made more than a million dollars.
As for winning? Well, there's always those weeks that Tiger Woods decides to stay home and play with his infant daughter.
And you never know, he could always get food poisoning and have to play sick. Wait, that already happened and he won anyway.
If bacteria can't beat Woods, does Bart Bryant have a chance?
Actually, the 45-year-old Bryant stood up to Woods longer than most players with names golf fans recognize. They usually give up before the back nine, while Bryant made Woods work all the way to the 18th green.
Give Bryant a moral victory for that, much like the one J.B. Holmes got when he was cruising to a match play win over Woods a few weeks back before Woods decided enough was enough and put an end to that.
Unfortunately, they don't hand out trophies for moral victories.
Woods was always by far the best player in golf, but this is starting to get scary. He's won every time he's put a tee in the ground the last six months, something that even the greats of the game like Nicklaus, Hogan and Palmer never dreamed of doing. Suddenly, talk of him not only winning the Grand Slam but going through the year undefeated no longer seems like such a fantasy.
We've never seen anything like this. Golf has never seen anything like this.
I walked with Woods the Sunday he won his first pro tournament 12 years ago and knew he was going to be great. I was along for the ride when he won the Tiger Slam in 2000-2001 and figured he couldn't be any greater.
I don't know what to say now. I've run out of superlatives to describe him.
So have his peers, who don't even bother to make excuses when he beats them.
"What he's doing now, you can't even fathom it," Bryant said after Woods curled in a 25-footer on the final green Sunday to beat him. "You just can't explain it. It's just incredible. Just what he did today is more evidence of this weird zone he's in. And he's been in it his whole life."
Woods has never been in it more than he is right now. There was a time when opponents hoped that marriage might slow him down, but it didn't. They then put their hopes in fatherhood, which only seemed to make him more content instead of more beatable.
If they're waiting for age to have an affect, they'll be waiting a long time. Woods is just 32, young in golfer's years, and one look at his broad shoulders and powerful arms is all it takes to know he takes care of himself.
Still, the talk of going through an entire season undefeated is just silly. Or is it?
Woods will probably play in 14 more tournaments this year, including the four majors. Most are on courses he's very familiar with and has had great success on.
He'll be playing against guys already cowed by his greatness, which means no one is going to make a back nine charge to beat him on Sunday. Zach Johnson may have done it last year in the Masters, but Johnson was playing well ahead of Woods and with the blissful ignorance of someone who really didn't comprehend what was happening.
Even if going undefeated may be a stretch &
and it may be, though you'd be hard-pressed to bet against the man who many already consider the greatest golfer ever &
the odds of Woods becoming only the second player behind Bobby Jones to win the Grand Slam look awfully good. And it wasn't that many years ago that people thought winning all four majors in one year was impossible.
Let's assume he wins the Masters, which is looking right now like a pretty good assumption. He then goes to one of his favorite courses, Torrey Pines, where he blew away the field earlier this year, as a prohibitive favorite to win the U.S. Open. From there it's on to Royal Birkdale, where 10 years ago he finished a shot back when his tee-to-green game was nowhere near what it is now.
That leaves the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills. He hasn't been there since the 2004 Ryder Cup, but at least this time he won't have to count on Phil Mickelson to help him out.
The only big tournament Woods might lose this year might be the Ryder Cup, and that's only because he doesn't play well with others.
Oddsmakers in Las Vegas like his chances. At the end of last year, you could get 20-1 betting Woods to get the Grand Slam, a number that now has dropped to 4-1. Incredibly, you can take every other player in the Masters against Woods and he would still would still be a betting favorite.
Woods may only win 10 tournaments this year instead of 17. He may win just three majors instead of four.
This is golf, so there's always a chance that a Brad Bryant or Zach Johnson might somehow get the upper hand over 72 holes on one given week. Heck, Mickelson might even steal one from him.
Then again, he may just run the table.
He is Tiger Woods, after all.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org