Will mastering Grand Slam be Woods' next feat? Long, tough courses offer him major chance

April 15, 1997|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Rarely is it mentioned anymore, partly because it has never been done in its current form and, to a large extent, because few golfers have generated this kind of excitement or confidence.

Ben Hogan might have done it, except for a quirk in the schedule. Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer each got halfway there, only to fall short overseas.

Now the question is being asked.

Now the idea of a Grand Slam doesn't seem far-fetched.

Not even to Tiger Woods.

"Whether it's realistic or not, I couldn't really tell you," Woods said after his record-setting, history-making 12-shot win in the 61st Masters on Sunday at Augusta National Golf Club. "But I think it can be done."

In the history of the game, it has been done only once. That was in 1930, when the legendary Bobby Jones won what was then considered the sport's Grand Slam -- the U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur, British Open and British Amateur -- four years before the Masters began.

At least for this year, and perhaps for this generation, it can be done only by Woods, the 21-year-old wunderkind who became the youngest winner in Masters history.

And with the remaining three majors being played at exceedingly long and difficult courses -- U.S. Open at Congressional in Bethesda; British Open at Royal Troon; PGA Championship at Winged Foot -- it doesn't seem that crazy an idea.

"If you think about it, let's use for example Phil Mickelson last year, I think he won four tournaments," Woods said. "Well, if you win the right four tournaments, then you have a Slam."

The victory by Woods was his fourth since he turned pro last summer, and his second this year. But it was his dominance over the course and the field that has many, including Woods, thinking about the possibility of a Grand Slam.

Consider what Woods did.

His 18-under-par total of 270 broke the tournament scoring record shared by Nicklaus and Raymond Floyd, and his margin of victory was the largest this century.

It was the largest margin of victory ever in a U.S. major, eclipsing the 11-shot win for Willie Smith in the 1899 U.S. Open at Baltimore Country Club.

"The rest of us were playing for the silver medal," said former U.S. Open champion and Ryder Cup captain Tom Kite, who finished a very distant second.

But there are a number of factors going against Woods in his pursuit of a Slam, history being chief among them.

Hogan came the closest, winning the first three in 1953 before he sat out the PGA Championship because it ended the day before the British Open began in Carnoustie, Scotland. Hogan won all three majors he played in that year.

Palmer won the first two majors in 1960 before losing to Kel Nagle by a shot in the British Open at St. Andrew's. He later won two of the first three in 1962, the only loss coming to a PGA Tour rookie named Nicklaus in an 18-hole U.S. Open playoff.

Nicklaus won the first two majors in 1972 before losing to Lee Trevino by a shot in a memorable British Open showdown at Muirfield. He is also one of a handful of players to have two majors in the same year, having done that on four other occasions.

"It's difficult to win, because these are the majors," said Woods, who now has added his first major as a pro to the record three straight U.S. Amateurs. "These are the best players in the world under the most extreme conditions.

"But I think you just peak at the right times, a lot of what Nicklaus used to do, and have a lot of luck on your side. To win a big tournament, you've got to have a lot of luck. Then, who knows?"

The biggest obstacle could be the U.S. Open. Because of the way the heavy rough comes into play, Woods will have to drive the ball as straight as he did between making the turn at 40 in Thursday's opening round here and losing a bit of concentration after making the turn with a 10-shot lead Sunday.

Even then, if he's not too far off line, Woods' distance might still be an advantage.

"He's usually 30 or 40 yards ahead of most of us, and if he's in the rough hitting a 9-iron, that's still a lot easier than hitting a 5-iron and trying to get it on the green," said former U.S. Open champion Corey Pavin. "I think his length is still his biggest advantage."

Said former PGA champion Steve Elkington, the only player besides Woods to have won twice on tour this year: "It's an advantage, but it's not as distinct an advantage as it was here [at Augusta]."

Butch Harmon, the noted golf teacher who has worked with Woods for the past year, believes that Woods will be able to show even more than he did at Augusta in this year's British Open at Troon.

With any traditional Scottish links course, the inventiveness of players often is helpful. What also could benefit Woods is the low trajectory of his drives. "I think it will give him a chance to use his imagination," Harmon said, "and Tiger's got a great imagination when it comes to this game."

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