Woods in a world of his own

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The Independent Online

Tiger Woods moved on from Europe to Asia today and set his sights on total global domination of golf.

Tiger Woods moved on from Europe to Asia today and set his sights on total global domination of golf.

Winner of his last four US Tour events - that has not happened since Ben Hogan in 1953 - the 23-year-old world number one will be going for an incredible 10th victory of the season when he starts the defence of his Johnnie Walker Classic title in Taiwan on Thursday.

And the manner of his latest success, the American Express World Championship at Valderrama, is guaranteed to give all his rivals a headache as they try to figure out a way to match him. Or even to stay close to him.

Colin Montgomerie, of course, is among them and while he rightly celebrates clinching the European Order of Merit for a seventh successive year, he knows there can be no resting on his laurels. Not with Woods about.

The American's scintillating performance in Spain has given Montgomerie a further harsh reminder of how hard it is going to be to get what he most wants - a Major title and the world number one spot.

Woods said: "I don't know whether I can revolutionise golf but I think my emergence, with my ethnic background, has obviously been good for the game.

"It's gotten more minorities involved and we'll see what happens. I can only do my part by doing a number of clinics (as he did today before flying), by playing and hopefully playing well.

"It's great to see all the work I've been doing with Butch (Harmon) is starting to pay off and hopefully I'll go on improving next year.

"I've also learnt to handle my schedule better, to take more breaks. That way I'm able to get more energised, probably more invigorated and feel like I'm able to play at 110% with each and every shot.

"To play week after week is draining. I've done a pretty good job of spreading it out and making sure I'm well rested."

As well as rest, the word 'genius' comes to mind and Montgomerie offers his own added reason for Woods' success - and his own.

"I'm probably second to Tiger Woods in ambition. It's never dwindled and it's huge," said the 36-year-old Scot.

"I want to achieve more and more from this game and provided I can stay fit and healthy I feel I can. Next year is another challenge.

"I've had to keep improving to win each and every one of my Order of Merits and I'm learning all the time.

"I have fantastic self-belief and fantastic support behind the scenes. My home life is very secure and I have a fantastic caddie - our course management skills are possibly the best."

While Montgomerie set a new record this season by pocketing over £1.3million in Europe - plus £170,000 for winning the Cisco World Match Play at Wentworth - they are figures dwarfed by Woods.

So far this year he has earned just short of seven million US dollars (£4.2million) - more than Jack Nicklaus in his entire 37-year career on the US Tour.

But it is not so much the money - over 11 million US dollars since he turned professional in August 1996 - that is most staggering. It is his current strike rate.

Golf is a sport where even the stars accept that they lose far more than they win. But not Woods of late.

His record, starting with the Deutsche Bank Open in Hamburg in May, reads first, first (Memorial), third (US Open), first (Western Open), seventh (Open), first (US PGA), 37th (Sprint International), first (NEC World Championship), first (Walt Disney Classic), first (Tour Championship), first (Amex World Championship).

That is eight wins in 11 tournaments and the one at Valderrama might just have been the best of the lot but for a triple-bogey eight at the penultimate hole - caused not through any fault of his own, but a controversial pin placing and maybe a gust of wind which resulted in his beautifully-struck nine-iron pitch rolling back into a lake.

Eight others in the elite 62-strong field failed to break 80 in the conditions, but Woods was heading for a 65 or even a 64 until he was cruelly knocked off course.

Miguel Angel Jimenez, also playing some magical golf a week after winning the Volvo Masters, was suddenly eyeing the £609,000 winner's cheque himself in front of his home fans. But he buckled with bogeys at the 16th and 18th holes, then the 18th again in the play-off.

The difference between winning and losing that play-off was almost £366,000. Wouldn't you buckle?

Jimenez, though, has proved himself a world-class performer this season - a season which will long be remembered.

Sergio Garcia arrived with a bang, Jose Maria Olazabal tearfully won a second Masters after fearing his career was over, Paul Lawrie came from nowhere (10 shots back actually) to capitalise on Jean Van de Velde's amazing last-hole collapse at the Open, and Europe - amid controversial scenes - lost the Ryder Cup.

Welshman David Park finished second and first in his first two European Tour starts, Nick Faldo's Ryder Cup run came to an end - and the slumps of Seve Ballesteros and Sandy Lyle went on.

So the European Tour goes into hibernation - until Thursday. It may not be 2000 yet, it may not be in Europe and the bulk of the field will not be European, but the Johnnie Walker Classic in Taiwan forms the first leg of the 2000 Order of Merit race. We live in strange times.