Throw out calendar, Woods' feat is all-time great

April 09, 2001|By John Eisenberg

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Masters chairman Hootie Johnson put it best. Tiger Woods' feat of winning four straight major championships should be celebrated for what it is, not what it isn't.

In other words, who cares that it isn't a pure, calendar-year Grand Slam? It's just as rare, just as historic, just as blink-your-eyes amazing.

A four-peat? One guy able to plunk the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA trophies on his coffee table at the same time?

Jack Nicklaus couldn't do it. Ben Hogan couldn't do it. Arnold Palmer, Byron Nelson, none of golf's touchstone legends could do it.

So what if it doesn't tuck perfectly into the abstract parameters of a mythical accomplishment? Whatever we call it instead of a Grand Slam - a Clean Sweep? a Pick Four? a Major Domo? - it's one of the great sports feats we will witness.

Not only did Woods win the four tournaments by a combined 26 strokes, he won three of the four at Pebble Beach, St. Andrews and Augusta National, arguably the three greatest courses on the planet.

"I haven't accomplished anything this great," Woods said after holding off David Duval and Phil Mickelson to win the Masters by two strokes yesterday. "I've won a lot of tournaments and had a lot of special things happen to me. Winning six straight USGA [national championship] events [as an amateur] wasn't bad. But four consecutive majors, I don't think I've ever accomplished anything this great."

The only other golfer to do it was Bobby Jones in 1930, when the U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur, British Open and British Amateur were the four majors. Woods was asked last night what he would say to Jones, who died 30 years ago, if the two could have a conversation today.

"I'd say, `Man, how'd you come back [from the dead] like that?'" Woods said with a smile.

The irreverent response summed up his relaxed demeanor in the aftermath of a relentlessly pressurized round in which he shot 68 and finished off his victory with a 20-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole.

"What should we call your [four in a row] achievement?" he was asked in a packed room of reporters.

"I'll let you guys decide; you guys are very creative," he said.

"Is it a Grand Slam?" he was asked.

"I won four," he said.

The king gets to make the rules. But Woods, 25, is an avid student of golf history, and he knows it's not an official, by-definition Slam, not with three of the wins coming in 2000 and the fourth in 2001. Sorry, standards are standards.

But anyone who thinks that's important right now, raise your hand. Hello? Anyone out there?

Right, it's not important at all.

"Does this rank with some of the great sports feats of all time, like Joe DiMaggio's [56-game] hitting streak?" Duval was asked.

"I don't know if you can compare the two; that's not apples and oranges, that's apples and peanuts," Duval said, breaking into a rare smile. "But it's certainly very, very special."

Mickelson couldn't summon the proper context or comparisons, either.

"I really haven't been thinking about that," he said glumly.

Nor had Woods, it turned out. The only time he lacked an answer, on or off the course, was when he was asked how his feat ranked with those of Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan and other legends.

"Some of the biggest accomplishments I've been privy to see have been on videotape," he said. "I haven't been on this planet long enough to see a lot of the greatest athletes of all time. I never saw Ali fight [live]. Some of the stuff MJ [Jordan] has done has been amazing. And Carl Lewis [winning medals] in four or five Olympics."

Everyone is going to have a different list of feats and a different set of comparisons, but no matter who or what they are, Woods now belongs with them. Winning four majors in a row puts him in the highest company.

He is manufacturing the same kinds of indelible moments as Jordan, and the same kind of legend.

Jordan hit a buzzer-beater to beat Cleveland in a playoff series early in his career. Woods won the Masters by 12 strokes at age 21. Jordan scored 38 points with the flu in a key championship series game against Seattle. Woods scorched the field at Pebble Beach and St. Andrews. Jordan hit the last shot of his career to win a title. Woods steeled himself in the tensest of conditions yesterday and parred the last five holes to hang onto the lead before birdieing while Duval and Mickelson faltered ever so slightly.

Jordan rested the NBA championship trophy against his forehead and wept. Woods covered his face and "started to lose it" after sinking the decisive putt on the 18th green yesterday.

"It was a weird feeling," he said. "When you're focused so hard on every shot, you kind of forget everything else. When I didn't have any more shots to play, that's when I started to get emotional."

Because he had just won his fourth straight major?

"Actually, because I just won the Masters," he said. "I'm kind of thinking about that more right now, and it's a cool feeling. I'm sure that will change as I have time to reflect."

Indeed, it will. Golfers win majors; Woods already has won six. But no one wins four in a row.

"You don't dream about something like that as a kid," he admitted. "You dream about winning a major. I did. But winning four in a row is too much to comprehend."

There you have it: A feat too grand even for a child's imagination. And by whatever name, something we may never see again.

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