Woods draws the rein on Tour win drought BellSouth victory brings sigh of relief


DULUTH, Ga. -- It took 10 months, but Tiger Woods' trademark smile returned yesterday. It was not, however, the youthful, exuberant smile we had remembered. The expression behind this smile was one of relief.

By winning the BellSouth Classic at the TPC at Sugarloaf, Woods ended a drought of 16 PGA Tour starts without a victory. He had not won a tour event since last July's Motorola Western Open.

For most players, that would constitute a lull. But a player of Woods' caliber doesn't get off that easy. His winless run was portrayed as a prolonged slump. It brought a national chorus of I-told-you-sos from those who believe he is more hype than substance.

When told yesterday that he looked more relieved than excited after the victory, Woods replied: "I was.

"The only reason I won today is that I got some lucky breaks. I haven't been able to get them all year. I got them last year."

Now, for the second straight year, Woods will take a winning streak of one into the GTE Byron Nelson Classic, which begins Thursday on the Four Seasons at Las Colinas' TPC and Cottonwood Valley courses.

Last year, he was coming off his record-shattering, 12-shot Masters victory. This year, his momentum is not as awe-inspiring. He shot par-72 yesterday for a 271 total to hold off 39-year-old, one-time tour winner Jay Don Blake by a stroke.

This time last year, Woods was on the verge of winning the Nelson with a record-tying 17-under score, despite what he conceded was his "C-plus" game on Sunday. That win gave Woods five victories during a 12-start span.

Few would have guessed that Woods would win only one of his next 21 tour starts. Few would have foreseen that yesterday's BellSouth would be the first time since last year's Nelson that Woods would carry a lead into the final round.

It took Woods 11 months and two weeks to earn two victories, not counting his eight-stroke comeback to beat Ernie Els in Thailand earlier this year in a European tour event.

During the same span, eight other players have posted two or more wins. Based on victories alone, David Duval (five), Els (three), Davis Love (three) and Justin Leonard (three) have outplayed Woods during the past 11 months.

Even Woods admitted yesterday that the pressure to dominate has become easier than last year.

"It has," he said. "I don't read what you guys write anymore. I don't want to say that, but it is the truth. I was there. I know what happened.

"I don't need another person's opinion of what happened. So, because of that, I have been a lot better off and not as critical of myself as I was. I'm just being myself."

Although his victory rate has slowed, yesterday's win was his seventh in 36 tour starts.

Woods par for the season

Comparing Tiger Woods' 1997 season to his 1998 season on the PGA Tour, through the BellSouth Classic. For the remainder of 1997, Woods had two more wins and won another $1,060,733.

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. Top .. .. .. .. .. Money .. ... Scoring

.. Events .. Wins .. 10s .. Money .. .. per event .. avg.

'97 .. 6 ... 2 .. .. 4 . .. $946,100 .. $157,683 ... 68.84

'98 .. 9 ... 1 .. .. 6 .. $1,003,586 .. $111,510 ... 69.57

Pub Date: 5/11/98

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