Woods ready to weather British odds

U.S. champ seeks to become youngest to win Grand Slam

British Open

July 19, 2000|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland - The setting has changed, from one hallowed place called Pebble Beach to another called St. Andrews. The tournament has changed, from the 100th United States Open to the 129th British Open.

The favorite and the storyline remain the same.

In fact, the odds on Tiger Woods winning here are less than 2-1, a mind-boggling figure in golf and down from the 3-1 Woods was given to win the U.S. Open last month. He complied then, winning by a record 15 shots.

Even Woods seemed a little stunned by the odds on him winning at the Old Course.

Asked how much he would bet on himself, Woods said: "Maybe five quid [pounds, or about $7.50] here or there. I probably wouldn't put more than that. [They are] bad odds. Is it like a horse championship where you get show money, too?"

After his Secretariat-like performance this year, in particular at Pebble Beach, the only player who seemingly will stand in the way of Woods winning his second straight major and, at 24, becoming the youngest player to complete a career Grand Slam, seems to be Woods himself.

"Whether I'm the favorite or not, I'm looking to have the same mind-set and that's to go out and do the best I can and try to win the championship," Woods said yesterday.

"What am I after? I am trying to become the best I can be, whether that means winning three majors the rest of my career or never winning another tournament. I may win umpteen tournaments. I'm just trying to get better."

At least Woods has shown since the Open that he is human and is coming off his worst finish of the year - a lackluster 23rd-place tie at the Western Open two weeks ago.

The problem there was his putting, and was compounded by the fact that his coach, Butch Harmon, wasn't there to help Woods make adjustments, as he did for 2 1/2 hours the night before the start of the U.S. Open. Harmon was here yesterday working with Woods while he practiced.

"Going into the U.S. Open, I said the same thing," said Woods, who didn't three-putt once at Pebble Beach. "I was making putts. There is a difference between making putts and making putts properly. My ball was not doing that today."

Despite his recent putting problems, Woods likes his chances to make history this week. His dominating performance at the Open, which gave Woods his fifth victory this year and his 12th in the past 11 months, has increased the aura surrounding him and the level of intimidation he brings to each tournament he plays.

"I don't think anyone is really going to pay attention - they might pay attention a little bit, but I doubt it - to exactly how I'm playing," said Woods. "They need to take care of their own business. I am going to try to take care of mine, so I can be there on Sunday with a chance to win."

Woods also played down the apparent lack of competition.

"To be honest with you, this is the Open championship and everyone is a great player here," he said. `They've earned their right to play in the tournament ... the opportunity to win the championship. Anybody playing in the field can win it. All you need is four good days."

Pinned down to name a few contenders, Woods mentioned Ernie Els, who tied for second at the Open and is coming off a victory in last week's tournament at nearby Loch Lomond; also Nick Price, who won the Open at Turnberry in 1994; three-time champion Nick Faldo; and David Duval.

"There are so many different guys playing well," said Woods. "It's going to be a lot of fun this week."

Weathering the wind

The biggest factor, as always, will be the changeable weather patterns and whether the wind will whip in from off the North Sea. It wasn't a factor when Faldo won here in 1990 with a record of 18-under-par 270, and only a little more when John Daly won here in 1995 in a playoff.

It could certainly play into the decisions Woods makes on the tee, especially on the par-4s since he could drive the green on as many as five of those. The practice rounds have been played with little wind, but that is expected to change when the tournament begins tomorrow.

Woods, who has studied tapes of Opens played at the Old Course, would like to see that happen.

"I think any time the winds blow on any golf course it distinguishes the players who are playing well a lot faster and more dramatically than when it's calm," said Woods. "I personally hope it blows because I think that's the tradition of the British Open. You have to have it a little windy, a little rainy, a little cool. That's what we all look forward to playing in."

Jack Nicklaus, whose victories here in 1970 and 1978 were among his three British Open titles and record 18 major professional championships, said yesterday that Woods' biggest advantage is his talent.

"Tiger is much like any other player that is at the top of his game and playing well related to the rest of the field," said Nicklaus. "He's a better player. That doesn't necessarily mean he's going to win. I have come here a few times supposedly being the better player and I did not win every time."

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