Once they would have laughed at Fred Funk. No, not because of his name – that calamitous misprint just waiting to happen – but rather because of the bet he has struck that Tiger Woods will win every event he enters this year. Now they simply scrunch up their faces, shake their heads a bit, waggle their fingers horizontally and say, "Maybe, maybe. What price did Fred get?"
Fred's not saying, although Ladbrokes admitted to The Independent yesterday that their quote of 25-1 is "a little absurd". "We don't think he's going to do it, how could he?" said their spokesman. "But we've set an artificially low price. Why? Because we are scared, that's why."
If they are trembling in front of their screens 4,500 miles away, imagine how his rivals feel here at the WGC CA Championship; on the same fairways but in a different world. Woods has won his last seven tournaments in a streak going all the way back to last September and nine out of the 10 he has played in since the beginning of August. In the other he disgusted himself by finishing second.
"And do you know what the most remarkable thing about it is?" ventured England's Lee Westwood here at Doral yesterday, as he prepared for today's first round. "It's that Woods only plays in the best fields. Every time he tees it up there are normally at least 15 of the world's top 20 against him. He doesn't have 'easy' weeks. Well, he does, but they shouldn't be."
These next four days will be no exception as only Padraig Harrington from the top 60 is absent. Yet Tiger is odds on at 10-11 to win and the next competitor in the market is Phil Mickelson at 16-1. The bookies running scared again? Not really. Analyse the stats and they are merely running sensibly.
Woods has prevailed in this particular WGC dollar-fest six times out of its eight stagings and has triumphed at Doral in the last three professional tournaments he has appeared at the "Blue Monster". In fact, this could be the best near-even money wager since Arthur Daley used to flick up that double-sided coin of his. What is certain is that if Woods lifts yet more silverware on Sunday evening the question, "Can he survive the year undefeated?" will only rise in volume. That and a few others.
For Woods is on the trail of not one record but many – on many different fronts. It has ever been thus with this great history re-writer who has ripped up golfing mythology and replaced it with his own set of rules. While Jack Nicklaus's major haul of 18 is the target on which he has focused his entire career, there have been dozens and dozens of new marks to gun for, on the off-chance that he has become bored with the view of the vast landscape stretching out towards immortality beyond the "Golden Bear".
Some have been considered unattainable – the "Tiger Slam", for one, when he held all four majors at once during 2000-01 – and the latest milestone that he cannot possibly pass, but probably will, is Byron Nelson's sequence of 11 "Ws" on the bounce in 1945. If Woods were to follow up from here with victories at the Masters (likely), the Wachovia Championship (likely), the Players (not so likely) and then the Memorial (again, likely), he would arrive in June at Torrey Pines, probably the course most suited to him on earth, aiming for more than just the US Open. The modern game would have seen nothing like it before – and in most people's opinion here, neither would modern sport.
Woods revealed yesterday that he compares notes with Roger Federer – $100 ones, naturally – on a weekly basis and Colin Montgomerie, a huge tennis fan, was recently keen to draw a distinction between the two. "There's no doubt they are kindred spirits, but I must say what Tiger is doing cannot really be quantified in tennis terms," said the Scot, who needs to finish fourth this week to qualify for next month's Masters. "Federer is playing against any one person on any given day while Woods sometimes has 155 rivals. Then there are the many variables of golf, that you just don't get in tennis. Tiger's is a totally different achievement."
Everybody on the driving range would doubtless agree. There was much hilarity and comments of "You what?" when a few pros were told that one British national newspaper had posed the question: "Who is the best? Lewis Hamilton or Tiger Woods?" "Don't even go there," was the general opinion.
Bart Bryant, the veteran who had to sit and watch as Woods denied him a play-off at last week's Arnold Palmer Invitational with a raking 24-footer on the final green, would certainly subscribe to this view. "I'm not sure the average sporting fan understands what's happening – but the true golf fan does," he said. "Because what he's doing, it's unfathomable."
However, to Woods it isn't; he is simply turning up and doing what comes supernaturally. When quizzed whether he can maintain his 100 per cent record throughout the season, he has come up with the stock answer: "Well that's the intent." But then, he is hardly going to turn up at a tournament and announce that he is not intending to win, now is he?
His 17/18-event yearly schedule is tailored to inspire the maximum effort from his extraordinary talent each time he tees it up. Experience has shown what it takes to achieve consistent brilliance, although in the Doral press room he was willing to confess that old lady luck is an important factor, too.
"You can't win events out here without having a break here and there," said the 32-year-old. "I've never played an event I can remember without having one break go my way to win an event. Right now I'm having a lot of things go my way and I've also learned how to fix things while I'm playing. That's been the best lesson over the past few years: how to fix my rounds on the fly and turn rounds that should be 73 or 74 into 68s."
That happened last Friday in Bay Hill. When commentating on Woods somehow clawing himself to that number, Jonny Miller declared "that would have been mid-70s for any other golfer". It is Woods's finest attribute: the ability to turn a crisis into a drama and, from there, that drama into an award-winner. "I'm better than I was in 2000," he said, referring to the year in which he won three majors. "Better in all facets of the game."
There is not a shot he feels he cannot take on. "The simplest way to explain it is that you've got to be able to play nine basic shots, right?" he said. "There's straight, left to right, right to left and then there's three different trajectories: low, regular and then high. But there's an infinite number in between these. Each and every day is different and each and every lie is different. You've go to be able to call upon all those shots at any time and have complete confidence you can pull it off.
"Sure, there's sometimes when you're in the rough or whatever and you have to think 'Do I go for the green or do I wedge out?' You have decisions to make. But as far as not knowing what do with a shot or wondering if I have the shot to pull it off? No, that doesn't happen."
It is a chilling insight for his opponents, although some of them have become so frozen they are clearly numb. "Listen, Tiger has a good career every year," said the former US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy, summing it up very astutely. "Last year would have been a good career for anybody, a major and seven other tournament wins."
Believe the weight of money and this year could represent an entire locker room of careers. "Tiger's only 8-1 to win the grand slam and though that is again an unrealistic price we have had to drop it so much because of our liabilities," said our man from Ladbrokes. "He started off at 66-1. But the bets just poured in."
Basically, what the boys with the satchels are saying is that Tiger is twice as likely to win all four majors in 2008 than Mickelson (16-1) is merely to win here this week. By the same token he is three times more likely than Ernie Els (25-1) is to win here, four times more likely than Vijay Singh (33-1) and 30 times more likely than Montgomery (250-1).
Actually, that last bit does make some sense. Little else about Tiger does.
The Magnificent Seven: Woods' epic winning run... and what's to come
Tiger has won his last seven tournaments – and where he might play in the rest of the season:
9 September 2007: BMW Championship (Chicago)
Woods wins by two after a blistering eight-under 63 in the final round
16 September 2007: Tour Championship (Atlanta)
Woods collects a $10m FedEx bonus with eight-shot victory over PGA Tour's best
16 December 2007: Target World Challenge (Los Angeles)
Woods finishes off the year by winning his own tournament. The seven-shot victory is a record in the event
27 January 2008: Buick Invitational (Torrey Pines)
Another eight-shot victory - the ninth of his career - as Woods continues his love affair with Torrey Pines
3 February 2008: Dubai Desert Classic
Overcomes four-shot deficit with final-round 65 to break Ernie Els's heart – again
24 February 2008: World Match Play Championship (Tucson)
Survives first-round scare against JB Holmes and then against Aaron Baddeley before belittling Stewart Cink in the final 8&7
17 March 2008: Arnold Palmer Invitational (Bay Hill, Florida)
Sinks 24ft putt on the final green to see off Bart Bryant
On the agenda...
10-13 April Masters (Augusta) Last year: Tied 2nd
1-4 May 1-4 Wachovia Championship (Charlotte) Last year: 1st
8-11 May The Players (Sawgrass) Last year: 37th
29 May – 1 June The Memorial (Muirfield, Ohio) Last year: Tied 15th
12-15 June US Open (Torrey Pines) Last year: Tied 2nd
3-6 July AT&T National (Congressional) Last year: Tied 6th
17-20 July The Open (Birkdale) Last year: 12th
31 July–3 August Bridgestone Invitational (Akron) Last year: 1st
7-10 August USPGA Championship (Oakland Hills) Last year: 1st
28 August-1 September Deutsche Bank Championship (Boston) Last year: 2nd
4-7 September BMW Championship (St Louis) Last year: 1st
25-28 September Tour Championship (Atlanta) Last year: 1st
TBA: Target World Challenge (Los Angeles) Last year: 1stReuse content