On Sunday eveningthe scorecard said that Henrik Stenson was the winner of the Accenture MatchPlay Championship. Perhaps the real victor, though, was a gentleman who passedaway in September at the age of 94. When Nick O'Hern eliminated Tiger Woods inthe third round at the Gallery's South course, thus halting Woods's streak ofPGA Tour wins at seven, Byron Nelson's hallowed record of 11 straight victoriesin 1945 acquired even more luster. Now it looks downright unassailable, andonly one question remains: Is this the greatest individual sports streak of alltime?
The conditionswere never more ripe for an assault on Nelson. You had arguably the greatestgolfer ever, in his prime, playing a custom-made schedule at a time when hismain challengers hadn't been at their best. And still Woods stumbled. So if notnow, when? Never, probably.
Even beforeWoods's doomed attempt, Nelson's mark already had its rightful place on theMount Rushmore of individual sports streaks. Foremost, of course, is JoeDiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, attained in 1941 and long thought to be themost shatterproof. Appearing proudly alongside are such epic deeds as OrelHershiser's 59 straight scoreless innings in 1988; hurdler Edwin Moses's 122straight victories from 1977 to '87; NFL receiver Jerry Rice's 274 straightgames with at least one reception (1985--2004); and even Woods's streak of 142consecutive cuts made (1998--2005).
Of those, themarks of Joltin' Joe and Lord Byron have stood the longest, making them thefocus of barroom arguments over which is the greatest. Supporters of the YankeeClipper would open by declaring that hitting a baseball safely may be the mostdifficult act in sports. They would then note that the closest anyone inbaseball's modern era has come to DiMaggio's record is 12 games (Pete Rose's 44in 1978). No one since has even had a 40-game hit streak. Case closed.
Or is it?Nelson's adherents would concede that there's forgiveness on the golf course:You can win despite a flub here and a dub there, but there's no hanging it upafter you get your hit for the day, so to speak. In other words, DiMaggio onlyhad to reach base safely once a day. Nelson actually had to win his event,either by beating an entire field or by prevailing at often grinding matchplay, as he and partner Jug McSpaden did in the '45 Miami Four Ball. In suchinstances, as Woods has discovered to his dismay, a Nick O'Hern is always lyingin the weeds. To rebut the objection that Nelson was facing fields weakened bywartime: Sam Snead entered 27 events that year and Ben Hogan 19. Jimmy Demaretand Craig Wood played full schedules. They were not chopped liver. So theverdict--at this 19th hole, anyway--goes to Nelson.
In any case, it'sbeginning to look suspiciously as if Lord Byron's record, like Joltin' Joe's,may never even be equaled, much less broken. What's indisputable is that ifTiger hopes to match Nelson, he must start all over again at one.
by JIM GORANT
Bye-bye, Presidents Cup. Only one U.S. pro made theMatch Play final eight.
Fred Funk, 50, wins the inaugural Mayakoba Classic inCancun
ACHES AND PAINS
THE TOP 64
STREAKER Nelson's run of 11 consecutive wins came over a span of five months during the 1945 season.
GETTY IMAGES (OLDER MAN, BEACH)
GREGORY BULL/AP (FUNK STRETCHING)
AL MESSERSCHMIDT/PGATOURIMAGES.COM (PLAYERS TROPHY)
ROBERT BECK (WOODS)
DAVID DE LA PAZ/EPA (FUNK WITH TROPHY)