Woods' feat opens up great comparisons

Deford sees similarities with Beamon, Larsen

Golf

June 20, 2000|By FROM STAFF REPORTS

Tiger Woods' 15-stroke victory in the U.S. Open on Sunday ranks with the all-time individual performances in sport. So says Frank Deford, commentator for National Public Radio and a senior writer for Sports Illustrated. Deford, a Baltimore native, likens Woods'golf feat to near-mythic efforts of athletes like Bob Beamon, Don Larsen and Secretariat.

"It's awfully hard to determine majesty, but what Woods did was so supreme, so mouth-watering, it took your breath away," Deford said. "If the [four-day] Open had been played under boxing rules, it would have been stopped after the first day on a TKO [technical knockout]."

His runaway victory on the vaunted Pebble Beach course allows Woods to distance himself from all but a handful of athletes, Deford said. Stars like Beamon, who obliterated the world long jump record in the 1968 Olympics. Or Larsen, the New York Yankees' pitcher who hurled a perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Or Secretariat, whose 31-length victory in the 1973 Belmont Stakes clinched the colt's Triple Crown.

"Everything came together for Secretariat - it was one of those times when a great athlete has his best day ever," Deford said.

"Larsen? You can't get more perfect. And, like Woods, he did it on a stage. Playing Hamlet on Broadway is more important than in regional theater because a bigger stage means more pressure."

Likewise, Beamon made his record jump of 29 feet, 2 1/2 inches - almost 2 feet better than the old mark - before a world-wide television audience. "The extraordinary thing about Beamon is that he went way, way beyond what anyone else had ever done," Deford said.

What wows him most about Woods and Beamon is that both were competing largely against themselves. Deford said: "Nobody was in their face. They weren't beating someone else, they were beating a standard.

"It's different standing toe-to-toe with someone in the ring and hitting on each other, as opposed to Tiger Woods unleashing shot after shot all by himself. I suppose you'd have to ask an athlete which is harder."

Deford rattled off several other Ruthian performances, including the Babe's 54-home run season in 1920 (the old record was 29) and Roger Bannister besting the 4-minute mile in 1954 ("a great achievement but not perfection").

"Tennis has had some extraordinary victories, like Jimmy Connors' slaughter of Ken Rosewall [6-1, 6-1, 6-4] at Wimbledon in 1974. That really turned heads," Deford said.

His list stops there, Deford said.

"People will say, `How about [swimmer] Mark Spitz and [speed skater] Eric Heiden winning all those Olympic medals?' But that's a cumulative thing."

History will show that others' exploits pale beside that of Woods. Deford said: "Tiger was just being as perfect as you could be - and he was doing it on a very difficult course that throttled everyone else."

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