Woods seeks crowning achievement

Already of golfing royalty, he could be first to win first three Slams of year

2002 British Open

July 17, 2002|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

GULLANE, Scotland - When Tiger Woods approached the practice ground at Muirfield on Monday morning, a female marshal stood in his way.

Woods had left his credentials in his car, and she didn't recognize the world's No. 1 player. At first, Woods and members of his entourage thought the woman was joking.

She wasn't.

"I guess I convinced her by saying that I won the tournament two years ago," Woods recalled yesterday with a laugh.

FOR THE RECORD - In yesterday's sports section, an article about the British Open incorrectly stated that Tiger Woods would become the first golfer to win the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open in the same calendar year should he win the 2002 British Open. In 1953, Ben Hogan won the three tournaments.

The marshal, who later was reassigned to another location on the course, was probably the only person here for the 131st British Open who couldn't identify Woods.

From the Nike-sponsored billboards with his image spotted around town to the near-concession speeches many of his fellow players have already given regarding another major championship victory for Woods, this has all the makings of the latest coronation.

A victory for Woods would make him the first player in history to have won the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open in the same calendar year and would give him a chance to become the first to complete a modern Grand Slam next month at the PGA Championship at Hazeltine in Chaska, Minn.

"I think probably it's going to be a little more difficult to win in the same calendar year, because you have to start off with the first one," said Woods, the only player to win four successive majors (the last three of 2000 and the first of 2001).

Woods acknowledges he is not playing as well this year as he did two years ago, when he won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by a major-championship record 15 strokes and the British Open at St. Andrews by a mere eight.

"I think I won 12 times around the world that year," said Woods, 26. "You can't really slap it around and do that. This year hasn't been quite as good.

"I've played well in major championships. That's what I want to do, and I've been able to do that this year. ... It's not like I'm struggling."

With the weather a bit more typical for the British Open than initially forecast - it was cool with intermittent rain yesterday - it could make for more difficult playing conditions for tomorrow's first round.

That seems to suit Woods well. Under sloppy conditions, he shot his way into a share of the lead after the third round of the Masters this year and stretched his lead at this year's U.S. Open while playing in the rain and wind in the second round on the Black Course at Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale, N.Y.

"I grew up in Southern California, so any time we got bad weather, it was neat to play in because we never really saw it," Woods said. "I enjoy the challenge and having to go out there and post a number in bad conditions.

"It's not easy to do."

With Woods, it just looks easy. His pair of three-stroke victories in the Masters and U.S. Open, which gave him a total of eight major championships in his career, was done virtually unchallenged during the final rounds.

Those triumphs have led a number of older players, such as Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, to recently criticize those who have fallen quietly during Woods' domination.

"To have the luxury to be very close and just watch everybody else fall apart while you play good - solid, yet conservative golf - and not have to do anything ... I don't think I had that luxury too often unless I had a five- or six-shot lead," said Nicklaus, who holds the record of 18 professional major titles.

" ... The guys today are terrific players. They're great players. There's nothing wrong with them. But they haven't had the luxury of having won significant golf tournaments."

Asked whether he would like to get more of a challenge from the likes of Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia of Spain and two-time U.S. Open champion Ernie Els of South Africa, Woods smiled.

"If you were a golfer, I think you would probably answer the question by saying, `What would you rather have, a one-shot lead or a 20-shot lead with two holes to go?' " Woods said. "I think most of us would pick the bigger lead, and I certainly feel that way as well."

Woods defended those trying to beat him.

"They've played well. It's just I've played well at the right times and made the right putts and got the good breaks at the right times, and that's what you need to happen," he said. "It's not like they're playing and shooting 80s in the final round."

Nor are some of them sounding very confident about their chances of dethroning Woods.

"I think, before '97, it was looking good because Tiger wasn't around then," Els said. "It seems now when you play a major tournament, you really play the golf course and you play Tiger. You can beat the field, but it doesn't mean you're going to beat Tiger."

With seven victories in the past 11 majors, Woods is in the midst one of the most dominating streaks in history.

Ben Hogan won eight of 11 majors he played between the 1948 PGA and the 1953 British Open, but he didn't play in any for more than a year after his near-fatal car accident in 1949 and missed several others because of injuries. Nicklaus won four of 10 majors he played in from the 1965 Masters through the 1967 U.S. Open. Arnold Palmer won five of 11 majors he entered from the 1960 Masters through the 1962 British Open.

"As a kid, I wanted to win a major championship. You never want to look at winning a Grand Slam," Woods said. "Just to get on tour first of all, and get your card and compete and then hopefully win major championships from there."

Along the way, Woods has become one of the most recognizable athletes in the world.

Except for one marshal at Muirfield for the 131st British Open.

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