CHANDLER'S CROSS, England — With golf-tour flags rippling from half-staff and black armbands crafted for the 63 players, a gasp of a streak goes on the line starting today just northwest of London.
It's the five-tournament win streak Tiger Woods deems terminated but the PGA Tour rates alive, but its adornments honor the golfer whose 11-match win streak still shouts clear from 1945.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday September 29, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 40 words Type of Material: Correction
Byron Nelson obituary: The obituary of golfer Byron Nelson in Wednesday's California section excluded Tiger Woods from a list of players who won more tournaments than Nelson. Woods won his 53rd tournament earlier this month, passing Nelson, who won 52.
Of the smaller streak, Woods said, "It ended two weeks ago," meaning his loss to Shaun Micheel in the first round of a World Match Play event that's part of the European Tour, meaning his streak technically could continue with this American Express World Golf Championship at the Grove resort and spa.
Of the longest streak, Woods said, "Probably not," meaning whether Byron Nelson's record of 11 in 1945 seems possible anymore.
He knows because the two men discussed it, a conversation lodged among Woods' lavish reminiscences Wednesday, one day after Nelson died on his Texas ranch after a 94-year life renowned for his long streak of 11 and his wide streak of gentlemanliness.
"He said he had to beat four or five guys every week," Woods said, "and when you're hot, that's not hard to do. That's not the case anymore. It's 40 or 50 now, so it's a lot different."
Ever the amateur historian, Woods, 30, noted how Nelson did not win the 12th event but did make it 12 of 13 in the event after that. Woods gave a meticulous description of Nelson's swing, noting its "slight inside-and-over-the-top move that was ever so slight, so he hit a kind of pull, that was his natural shot." He marveled at Nelson's capacity to recollect shots from 1934 and leave Woods thinking, "My dad was 2."
He remembered Nelson shocking an 18-year-old Woods with a handwritten letter after Woods won his first U.S. Amateur in 1994 at TPC Sawgrass. He estimated he has "close to 40 or 50" such Nelson letters.
He said Nelson seemed thrilled when Woods was headed to Stanford, and said, "You're on the right path. Just stick with that path."
"The first time I ever met Mr. Nelson was at Bel-Air," Woods said. "Nicklaus was doing a clinic and I guess I was invited to be his opening warmup act. I hit balls and warmed up the crowd for him and then Jack came out, but then I had to leave and go play a nine-hole high school match. And Mr. Nelson stopped by and wanted to say a couple things to me before I left, and 20 minutes later I didn't say a word, he was just doing all the talking."
At that point did 52 tournament wins, five major-tournament wins and 18 wins from 1945 alone -- done while daydreaming of buying a ranch -- first intersect with a certain teen from Anaheim Western High.
"He was so kind-hearted, so kind and so soft and so genuine," Woods said, later adding, "He just had a softness about him that was very unique."
Said Sergio Garcia: "You know, fortunately for me, my first professional event as a pro in America was the Byron Nelson, where I managed to play well," in 1999, at age 19. "And then I was fortunate enough to win that event a couple years ago" -- in 2004. "At 92, 93 years old, it was still amazing to sit down and listen to him and see how clear the things were in his head and how he remembered so many of those stories."
Nelson's legacy and effective retirement in 1946 at 34 even got Woods envisioning his own retirement. "I won't play golf anymore when my best ain't good enough," he said, imagining children and his international foundation.
For now, he has simply been tired.
This convergence of players from six global tours and 17 nations marks the first tournament at a resort bought and refurbished in 1996, on grounds that held their first house in the Elizabethan era, then received visits from Queen Victoria.
If Woods can summon the play that marked his July-August binge that began in the British Open over on the Irish Sea, he could match the secondlongest PGA Tour win streak, behind Nelson's. At six, he'd pull up alongside Ben Hogan in 1948 and Woods himself in 1999-2000.
On Wednesday, he just spoke of a lack of sleep and a surplus of clouds.
"I'm just looking forward to getting back to the States and seeing the sun," he said to laughter.
Then: "I just can't wait to work on my tan."
All times Pacific:
WORLD GOLF CHAMPIONSHIPS
American Express Championship
* Site: The Grove (7,125 yards, par 71); Chandler's Cross, England.
* Schedule: Today-Sunday.
* Purse: $7.5 million. Winner's share: $1.35 million.
* Television: ESPN (today-Friday, 5:30 a.m.-10 a.m.); Ch. 7 (Saturday, 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m.; Sunday, 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m.).
* Last year: Tiger Woods won the WGC event for the fourth time, beating John Daly with a par on the second hole of a playoff at Harding Park in San Francisco.
*--* PGA TOUR Southern Farm Bureau Classic
* Site: Annandale Golf Club (7,199 yards, par 72); Madison, Miss.
* Schedule: Today-Sunday.
* Purse: $3 million. Winner's share: $540,000.
*--* CHAMPIONS TOUR Greater Hickory Classic
* Site: Rock Barn Golf and Spa, Jones Course (7,046 yards, par 72); Conover, N.C.
* Schedule: Friday-Sunday.
* Purse: $1.6 million. Winner's share: $240,000.
* Television: The Golf Channel (Friday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; Sunday, 3-5:30 p.m.)