Major force, Woods shakes other fields

10 months of dominance unheard of in golf, rare in just about any sport


April 10, 2001|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

AUGUSTA, Ga. - What Tiger Woods accomplishes is no longer measured simply within the parameters of his sport. There are still comparisons to other golfing legends - from Bobby Jones to Byron Nelson, from Ben Hogan to Jack Nicklaus - yet now others are being mentioned in relation to what Woods did here Sunday night.

In winning the 65th Masters and becoming the first player to hold all four of golf's major championships - the Masters, the U.S. and British opens and the PGA Championship - simultaneously, Woods has gone from being a phenomenon to the sport's transcending star to quickly becoming one of its immortals.

"The greatest golfing feat of our time," Augusta National Golf Club chairman Hootie Johnson called it at the ceremony where Woods collected his second green jacket.

It is a record that will likely never be broken, except if Woods does it himself.

Some talked about it in terms of Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak in 1941, others of the dominance exhibited by Secretariat in winning horse racing's Triple Crown in 1973 to the run of two separate threepeats Michael Jordan led the Chicago Bulls on in the past decade.

That what Woods accomplished wasn't done in the same calendar year, thus preventing it from being considered a true Grand Slam, means only that there is still at least one more immediate goal left for Woods, 25, to conquer.

"I haven't been on this planet long enough to have seen the greatest athletes of all time do some of their stuff, and I have never seen [Muhammad] Ali fight live or win a round," Woods said toward the end of his news conference after his two-shot victory over David Duval.

"Some of the stuff Michael Jordan has done has been absolutely amazing. Carl Lewis to be able to compete in what, four or five Olympics consecutively? That's incredible. I guess in our sport, my first recollections of this tournament was when Jack won in 1986."

Woods, 10 years old and already well known in junior golf, remembers the putt Nicklaus made on No. 18 to secure a one-shot victory.

Those who watched Woods will recall how his 20-footer dropped into the hole, providing the cushion of victory as well as a softer landing for Duval, who had missed a 5-footer for birdie a few minutes before.

It gave Woods his second Masters, his third straight victory this year, his fourth straight major championship dating back to last year and his sixth major title overall.

Duval found it ludicrous to compare DiMaggio's hitting streak to what Woods has done in the past four majors - "It's not even comparing apples and oranges; it's comparing apples and peanuts" - but the feat left most of Woods' peers, including Duval, in slack-jawed awe.

"I think that [Woods' streak] is something that would certainly have to be talked about in the same sentence [as DiMaggio]," Duval said.

It would also be in the same sentence as the six straight major championships won by tennis legend Don Budge in 1937 and 1938. His Grand Slam - actually, it was Slam and a half - began seven years after the terminology had become used to describe Jones' winning the U.S. and British opens and the U.S. and British amateurs.

Budge was the first of five tennis players to win the Grand Slam, most recently performed by Steffi Graf in 1988. In golf, it doesn't seem likely anyone will repeat what Woods has done over the past 10 months, starting with his 15-shot victory in last year's U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He won the British Open at St. Andrews by eight shots and the PGA Championship in a playoff over Bob May.

"I could hardly breathe watching him," said Rocco Mediate, who was in contention for the green jacket until a 73 Sunday left him tied for 15th. "I couldn't believe what I saw. I had to see it, because we're not going to see it again unless he does it. There's no one that's going to do that. I don't care what anybody says."

Several players hung around just to watch Woods finish.

When Mediate raised the question as to what other athlete has accomplished or could accomplish what Woods has achieved in the past four majors, Brad Faxon told reporters outside the clubhouse: "Does Secretariat count? It's Ruthian. Nothing that's been done is as impressive as what he's done in the history of the game."

It is a far different stance than most took back in 1997, when a 21-year-old Woods became the youngest player ever to win the Masters and the first player of color to don the coveted green jacket by breaking the tournament scoring record at 18-under par.

Many thought Woods merely overpowered the course rather than the field and took advantage of some hot putting.

This time, after several changes had been made to toughen the course, such as pushing back tees, growing light rough and planting more trees, there wasn't any talk of a one-dimensional champion.

That he never completely relinquished the lead Sunday to either Duval or Phil Mickelson, who wound up three strokes behind, was a testimony to the most mentally tough player since Nicklaus.

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