Tiger can't win them all, can he?

When Tiger Woods won the Masters in 2005 after holing a chip shot at the 16th that hung on the lip for a heartbeat &

logo side up, like the ball was auditioning for a commercial &

a few people wrote in to say it only proved their theory that he'd been hiding magnets in the cups all along.

That sounds only slightly less hysterical than the talk going around now that Woods will win every time he tees it up in 2008. Never mind that he's the one priming the pump.

"That's my intent. That's why you play," Woods said last weekend after winning his second straight tournament in 2008 and his fourth in a row dating back to September.

"If you don't believe you can win an event," he added, "don't show up."

The only reason opponents don't heed Woods' advice is because the second-place check is nothing to sneeze at.

Stewart Cink suffered the worst beating administered in the 10 years the match play final has been contested, losing 8 and 7 on Sunday, and still walked off with $800,000.

What he said afterward hardly compared to the lynching reference that got a Golf Channel anchor suspended for several weeks. But it demonstrated his rivals' growing frustration at what no longer seems like a fair fight.

"I think maybe we ought to slice him open to see what's inside there," Cink said. "Maybe nuts and bolts."

A better explanation can be found in a recent PGA Tour fact sheet quoted on ESPN.com. It showed players ranked in the top 30 score, on average, a half-stroke better than those ranked in the top 70, and that a typical top 10 golfer is another half-stroke better than a top 30 golfer. Woods, in turn, is beating the top 10 players by nearly a full stroke and the top 70 by almost two.

That shouldn't qualify as news. His rivals already know Woods can do everything on the golf course better than anyone else, with the possible exception of driving the ball consistently. What scares them when he gets on one of these sublime runs is an uncanny, unflinching ability to do it at the biggest moments.

In the Dubai Desert Classic at the start of the month, Woods was 4 strokes behind leader Louis Oosthuizen with seven holes to play. He made five birdies over that span to complete a remarkable back-nine 31, but just as important all four players in front of him &

Oosthuizen, Ernie Els, Henrik Stenson and Graeme McDowell &

stumbled home with an assortment of bogeys to clear his path to victory.

In the match play championship, Woods erased a 3-down-with-five-holes-to-play deficit in his first match by running off three birdies and slam-dunking a 35-foot eagle. Second-round opponent Aaron Baddeley missed potential winners twice from inside 12 feet. Woods' first chance to seal the outcome didn't materialize until the 20th hole; missing never crossed his mind.

"I think this certainly is the best stretch I've ever played," he said.

What has golf fans buzzing is not only how Woods is playing at the moment, but where he will be playing next. He's trimmed his schedule to 17 tournaments this season, shaping it around the four majors, the World Golf Championships and events backed by his biggest sponsors &

venues that bring together the toughest field on the best courses.

Woods plays next at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he's won four times, and the way the schedule breaks, nearly all of the other tournaments he's likely to show for will be at venues where he's won at least once. That's another reason some people think Woods might finally string together a calendar Grand Slam, overtake Byron Nelson's streak of 11 straight wins, perhaps even win them all.

Hal Sutton, who was one of only a few players to beat Woods during another sublime run in 2000, called that idea "laughable." The margins, he noted, even Woods' margins, are only razor-thin.

"Anybody who knows golf knows that ain't going to happen," he said Monday. "You can only own this game for a certain period of time. Even if your name is Tiger Woods, you don't own it forever."

Actually, the joke goes that nobody ever owns the game, they only rent it. Yet in a lengthy Golf Digest article last December, Woods sounded like someone about to sign a long-term lease. He talked at length about how the recent upheavals in his life &

the death of his father, Earl, his marriage and the birth of his daughter, Sam Alexis &

had made it easier to find calm when he needed it most.

"Every time I'm in a situation now down the stretch of a major on a Sunday afternoon, I can always say, I've done this. Other guys might not be able to say that. That allows you to play more at ease. Understanding how to win allows you to win more."

Just not all.

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke@ap.org

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