You could call Tiger Woods a Mozart with a mashie, a wunderkind, who in his youth has brought golf out of the bunker and onto greens and TV screens.
And the legend keeps growing. As the US Open looms June 14 in Tulsa, Okla., the grand slam question is: "Will Woods win an unprecedented fifth straight grand slam event?"
In a few short years Woods has accomplished so much that Jack Nicklaus - widely considered the greatest golfer ever - last weekend put Woods's accomplishments in a legendary perspective.
"Today, this is Tiger's 28th win on the PGA Tour," Nicklaus said as he presented the Memorial Tournament trophy to Woods. "Tiger, I had 29 by the time I was 30. So you've got five years to break that. And I wouldn't bet against you."
But what also sets Woods apart from other sports figures who break records is how he single-handedly has brought golf into the sports mainstream. A generation ago, golf carried a label of exclusiveness and bad fashion statements.
Today, it is hip, hot, and happening. The game has the fastest-growing fan base of any major sport, expanding by 17 percent over the past two years. It's become a TV ratings heavyweight, with a higher number of households tuning to an average PGA event than any other major sport except pro football. And, on any given Saturday or Sunday when Tiger Woods is on the leader board, TV ratings typically double.
In just a few years, Woods has impacted nearly every facet of the game. Fan interest. Sponsorships. TV ratings. Even golf balls, which at 40 million dozen sold per year are the top-selling sporting-goods item in the United States.
Last weekend, Woods won the Memorial in Dublin, Ohio, easily pulling away from the field for a six-stroke victory. "I really feel like I'm swinging the club the way I know I can," he told The Associated Press.
His game seems to be in top shape as he attempts to win his fifth straight major title at the US Open next week. "My goal is to win," he says. "Obviously, you're not going to win every time you tee it up. But that's my goal, and it's disappointing when that doesn't happen."
"He's probably the most dominant athlete in the history of sports," said Paul Azinger. Woods had zoomed past him to win the Memorial. "I don't know if the general public appreciates it. If they don't, they should," he told the AP.
Understanding his game
Tiger Woods is a mix of talent and toughness, fire and focus. Among the keys to his phenomenal success: Woods has been very strong during the third and fourth rounds (Saturday and Sunday), after the cut. Statistics, though, can be misleading: He's not the best in all categories. That's why he talks about improving every year. Below are some of the major statistics the PGA keeps and how Tiger ranks in each:
Tiger's rank Category Tiger on PGA Tour
Scoring average per round 68.89 1st
Driving distance 288.8 yds 7th
Driving accuracy 68.7% 96th
Putting average per hole 1.760 69th
Birdies per round 4.78 2nd
Top earners in sports
1. Michael Schumacher $59 million Formula One racing
2. Tiger Woods 53 Golf
3. Mike Tyson 48 Boxing
4. Michael Jordan 37 Basketball
5. Grant Hill 26 Basketball
6. Dale Earnhardt 24.5 Auto racing
7. Shaquille O'Neal 24 Basketball
8. Lennox Lewis 23 Boxing
9. Oscar De Le Hoya 23 Boxing
10. Kevin Garnett 21 Basketball
13. Arnold Palmer 18 Golf
20. Greg Norman 15 Golf
Tiger Woods had a huge 2000, but among all sports figures he ranked second in total earnings to German Formula One race-car driver Michael Schumacher. But this year, new endorsements are expected to catapult Woods to the top. Forbes magazine estimates that Woods has the potential to be the world's first sports billionaire by the end of his career.
Includes salaries and endorsements in 2000
Tiger's legacy (so far)
1991-1993: Only three-time winner of the US Junior Amateur Championship.
1994: Youngest US Amateur winner.
1994-96: Only player to win three consecutive US Amateur titles.
1997: At 21, the youngest-ever Master's champion.
Set a Masters record with a 12-stroke victory margin.
2000: Set 27 PGA Tour records.
Single-season earnings record of $9,188,321.
Set the lowest scoring average in history, 67.79 per round.
June 2000. Won the US Open by a record 15 strokes, the biggest winning margin for any major tournament.
At 24, youngest to win a career grand slam.
The only golfer to win all four grand-slam titles consecutively.
The youngest player ever to win six major tournaments.
His career earnings of $23,767,307 have already set an all-time record.
The most PGA Tour victories (28) among active players.
Legends left to beat
Jack Nicklaus: 18 victories in major grand-slam" tournaments.
Nicklaus's and Arnold Palmer's two-season title tally of 14. Woods has tied them with 14 wins in 2000 and so far in 2001, and has the rest of this year to surpass them.
Sam Snead's record of 81 PGA Tour titles. Woods has 28, and 36 worldwide.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor