Tiger, at 60, just keeps rolling at record pace

LEMONT, Ill. &

The massive gallery chasing Tiger Woods around Cog Hill included his wife, Elin, who was on the golf course for the first time since giving birth to their daughter. It was a sign they are settling back into a routine, even if Woods never got out of one.

He's still winning.

For those wondering how fatherhood might affect him, Woods is 56 under par in the six tournaments he has played since Sam Alexis was born a day after the U.S. Open. That includes three victories, one of them a major, and another milestone.

Woods doesn't keep track of the numbers, so he was mildly surprised to learn that his two-shot victory over Aaron Baddeley in the BMW Championship on Sunday was No. 60 in a PGA Tour career that began 11 years and 13 days earlier.

Only four other players have won that many times &

Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer &

and no one has reached that number so quickly. Woods is 31. Nicklaus was 35 and in his 14th season on tour when he reached his 60th tour victory.

"I never, ever would have dreamt that this could have happened this soon," Woods said after making eight birdies, missing only one fairway and posting a 63 that neither Baddeley nor Steve Stricker could match.

"I've been out here what, 11 years? And to have this many wins, I never could have foreseen that," he said. "I've exceeded my expectations, and it's been a lot of fun to enjoy that road, that whole process to get to 60. It's been a lot of work. There have been some changes along the way. But I think that's all been great."

The Tour Championship will be his final official start of 2007, so Woods will have to wait until next year to surpass Palmer, who is fourth on the career list with 62 victories. If he continues at this pace, he also will pass Hogan (64 victories) next year.

Odds are he will break Snead's record of 82 victories before he gets to Nicklaus' record of 18 professional majors.

As long and as often as Woods has been winning, the rate is no less alarming.

Remember, it was only 13 months ago at the Buick Open that Woods reached his 50th career victory. Since then, he has won 10 times in 19 starts.

"Not bad, eh?" was the best response Woods could find.

But he smiled and half-jokingly said another slump was eminent if he went a couple of tournaments without winning.

Woods has been dealing with such expectations for the last eight years, and there are times he gets too sensitive over any critique of his game. A little subcutaneous fat is better than thin skin.

But it's amazing how quickly public opinion can change. After failing to win while playing in the final group at the Masters and the U.S. Open, then never seriously contending at the British Open, there was talk that swing coach Hank Haney was holding him back. Never mind that Woods had won four of the previous eight majors, and none of his contemporaries have more than three for their career.

Woods quieted that talk with his victory at the PGA Championship.

And for those who question his ability off the tee, he missed only two fairways the entire weekend at Cog Hill. Asked the last time he had struck the ball that well, Woods mentioned Southern Hills, noting that the PGA fairways were more narrow.

Memories can be short.

Justin Rose has played with the world's No. — player on big stages like Muirfield and Carnoustie. But this was the first time in a final round, and he noticed a difference.

"He's so intense, but he's also incredibly relaxed," Rose said. "You can see he lets his round build. He starts off very relaxed, very calm, doesn't let anything bother him. And then as the round gets on and he gets more into it, he gets more and more focused."

That's what coach Butch Harmon was trying to share with Phil Mickelson about his former client.

When Mickelson won the Deutsche Bank Championship last week outside Boston while playing three rounds with Woods, he made it sound as though Harmon had shared some secrets.

In fact, Harmon said the tips were the same thing Rose discovered.

"One of the things he (Mickelson) can learn from Tiger is he doesn't let anything bother him," Harmon said in a telephone interview last week. "Tiger's greatest strength is what you can't see &

his mind, his heart, his desire. I explained things I learned in my 10 years being around Tiger, and it was geared toward making Phil more comfortable in that environment."

Along with reaching his 60th tour victory, the timing could not have been any better for the PGA Tour.

The FedEx Cup now has the No. — player atop the standings going into the Tour Championship, with Stricker and Mickelson right behind and both capable of winning the $10 million prize. Woods winning the cup would lend some measure of credibility for the skeptics. Stricker or Mickelson as the FedEx Cup champion would mean they won two of the four playoff events. There's nothing wrong with that, either.

Having those three among the top contenders will help take some attention away from the greens at East Lake, which are in bad enough shape that practice rounds effectively have been banned.

Woods helped promote the FedEx Cup by doing TV spots for the tour, the first time he had done a commercial for free.

He is among players who wonder about the shelf life of these PGA Tour Playoffs. But if there's a trophy on the line, he wants it.

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