Woods' feats incredible, yes, but not truly grand Here's one slam-dunk answer: Woods amazing, not truly grand

April 06, 2001|By John Eisenberg

AUGUSTA, Ga. - For the second year in a row, Tiger Woods was relatively far from the leaders after the first round of the Masters yesterday. But no one, least of all Woods himself, believes he will spend the rest of the weekend buried in the pack. In fact, the hottest question at golf's first major championship this year centers on what to do when Woods wins.

That is, would we credit him with golf's first modern Grand Slam because he has won four majors in a row dating back to the U.S. Open last summer? Or would we dismiss it as a near-miss because he won the first three of his four in a row in 2000 and the fourth in 2001?

From here, there's no debate at all. The four-in-a-row feat would be outrageous, but to win a Grand Slam, you have to win them in the same year. Woods didn't.

Becoming the first golfer to win today's four majors in succession would be "the greatest accomplishment in golf in [modern] time," Masters chairman Hootie Johnson said - but not a Grand Slam.

You can't find that in writing anywhere - the Slam is just a widely accepted abstraction - so this is going to be one of those issues without resolution. You can believe, as Woods apparently does now, that four in a row over two years is a Slam. Or you can believe, as I do and most of golf does, that it is a peerless accomplishment, but not a Grand Slam.

Many have weighed in with an opinion this week, with the majority seemingly siding against Woods. Prominent in the anti-Slam lobby are Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and David Duval, three of Woods' biggest supporters and closest friends, as well as two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer.

"It's meant to be done in one calendar year," Langer said. "Tiger almost did it, but almost doesn't count. It's the way it's always been. Why are we going to change all of a sudden?"

Palmer was even more succinct when asked if Woods should get credit for a Slam if he wins this week.

"No way, Jose," Palmer said.

Palmer's view is important because he helped devise the current Slam, which includes the U.S. Open, British Open, PGA and Masters. The original Slam, won by Bobby Jones 71 years ago, was composed of the U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur, British Open and British Amateur. Thirty years later, after the rise of professional golf, Palmer and sportswriter Bob Drum concocted the new Slam while traveling to England for the British Open.

But no matter which tournaments have been included, a Slam has always been accepted as a quest undertaken within a calendar year.

"As much as I'd like for [what Woods has done] to be thought of that way, I don't think you could look back in 50 years and say it was [a Slam]," Duval said.

Woods admitted as much while winning the last three majors of 2000, so why are we even discussing this? Because he has recently reversed his field.

"If you can put all four trophies on a coffee table [at once]," Woods said, "I think you could make a pretty good case."

His new-age thinking has some support from some old-school golfers such as Brad Faxon and Nick Price.

"If you've got possession of all four of those trophies at one time, it's a Slam," Price said. "What do they say, possession is nine-tenths of the law?"

Woods could have settled the issue by shooting lower than 75 in the first round of the Masters a year ago. That left him seven shots back, and even though he rallied sharply to finish fifth, his poor start cost him the one major he didn't win last year.

Determined to start better in 2001, he put his first tee shot in the woods yesterday and made bogey on No. 1 - ugh. But he settled down after that and shot 70, not bad for a day when he couldn't make a putt. The 2-under round left him five shots off the lead.

"I hit some good putts that didn't drop, and I hit some bad ones, too," he said. "I feel good. As long as you're [under par] on the first day of a major championship, you're fine."

Translation: Here he comes, probably sooner than later with the weather forecast calling for warm, dry conditions suited to low scoring. And as Woods soars, the real-or-faux Slam controversy should heat up, too.

Johnson, the Masters chairman, said it would be a shame if anyone diminished the four-in-a-row feat because the titles weren't won in the same year. But no one is diminishing the accomplishment. ("I don't care if it's a Slam or not, it's unbelievable," golfer Jesper Parnevik said.) They're just holding Woods up to long-accepted standards.

As golfer Stewart Cink said earlier this week: "When he didn't win at Augusta last year, didn't everyone say, `Well, there goes the Slam'?"

Yes, as a matter of fact, that's exactly what everyone said. So giving Woods credit for a Slam now would mean he had two cracks at the Masters. That's just not how these things work.

The guy already has more money, hype and game than anyone else - he doesn't need a charitable boost to make history. He'll probably win a Slam the right way soon enough if he keeps going at this rate.

And if he does pull it off eventually, the golf world would look back at his 2000-01 run and say that, as grand as it was, it wasn't a Slam.

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