Woods polishes off Grand Slam

THE BALTIMORE SUN

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland - The centuries-old Scottish expression of "Nae wind, nae rain, nae golf" might need some revision when it comes to describing the performance that Tiger Woods orchestrated the past four days in the 129th British Open.

As long as Woods was on the hallowed grounds of the Old Course, the rest of the field had nae chance.

In winning his second straight major championship this year and the fourth different major of his brilliant career, Woods, 24, became the youngest player and the fifth in history to complete a career Grand Slam - victories in the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship.

With yesterday's 3-under-par 69 - his fourth straight round in the 60s - and a 72-hole total of 19-under 269, Woods broke the record for the most strokes under par in the history of golf's oldest major championship, eclipsing by one the previous mark set here by Nick Faldo in 1990.

It also was the most strokes under par in any major championship. His margin of victory of eight strokes over Ernie Els of South Africa and Thomas Bjorn of Denmark, though not quite approaching the record of 15 he set at last month's U.S. Open or the 12 he won by at the 1997 Masters, was the most in a British Open since 1913.

"To have an opportunity to complete the Slam at St. Andrews ... at the home of golf, it's something I'll remember for the rest of my life," Woods told an adoring crowd near the 18th green last night, a few minutes after finishing off the victory and securing his new records with a 4-foot putt for par.

The victory was the 21st of his career and earned Woods $759,150, bringing his total as the PGA Tour's all-time money winner to more than $17 million. Woods can become the first player since Ben Hogan in 1953 to win three major titles in the same year at next month's PGA Championship in Louisville, Ky.

Not that Woods' celebration went off without a hitch. The customary champion's walk down the final fairway with thousands of fans trailing was interrupted briefly by what is quickly becoming another British sports tradition - a streaker running out on the course.

By then, Woods had long secured the Claret Jug that he was given later as the champion. It was his sixth victory of the 2000 season, his 13th win in his past 23 events and the 16th in his past 29 tournaments. Challenged briefly with runs by Els and David Duval, who climbed to within three strokes with birdies on four of the first seven holes, Woods made a few birdies of his own to pull away for good.

"It got close out there a little bit," said Woods, who was paired with Duval in a final twosome of the world's two highest-ranked players. "There was only three shots separating us at the time, which isn't that much considering all the trouble that's lurking out there and the holes we had left to play."

Duval stumbles

Woods didn't find trouble, but Duval did, making bogeys on the par-4 12th and 13th holes and another on the par-4 16th before dropping from a tie for second place into a tie for 11th after a disastrous quadruple-bogey 8 on the par-4 17th. As they left the course together after the round, Woods put his arm around Duval and patted him on the back. Duval, 28, is still looking for his first major championship.

"When David finished out and I finished out, I walked over to him and I just basically said, 'You know, you're a true champion, it was a lot of fun competing against you, and we will have numerous battles in the future,' " Woods said. "I told him, 'You should walk off like a true champion.' "

No bogeys, no bunkers

In truth, Woods was the only player who conquered the Old Course and all its subtle - and not-so-subtle - perils. He made only three bogeys on the undulating greens, where balls roll as if on a pool table. He did not find any of the 112 bunkers that dot the course like sand-filled land mines.

By winning so decisively for the second time in a little over a month in a major championship, Woods did more than reconfirm his standing as the world's top-ranked player. He also advanced his growing legend, joining Gene Sarazen, Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as the only men to have won all four Grand Slam events in their careers.

"It is incredible to watch a guy play so much better than the rest of the world," said Els, 30, a two-time U.S. Open champion who has finished second or tied for second in each of the year's first three majors, including the last two behind Woods. "In another way, it's tough to sit down and talk about him every time. I might have to get used to it, but that's the way it goes."

Asked if the ease of his victories surprises him, Woods said: "I think I'm surprised at some of the fortunate breaks I've gotten, to have a chance to win by the margins I've had. I hit some bad shots out there for the past four days, but they ended up all right. Tom Watson has always said that he's one of the luckiest people who've ever lived."

'Raised the bar'

Even Watson, who carved his own legend in this part of the world by being one of only three players to have won five British Open titles, was awestruck by Woods.

"He has raised the bar to a level that only he can jump," said Watson, who finished 55th while in his second year on the Senior PGA Tour. "Someone is going to have to use some Flubber in the bottom of their shoes to be able to jump over that bar. He is something supernatural. He wants to be the best player to ever play the game."

Woods, whom all-time PGA Tour winner Sam Snead last week called "the best ever," might get there.

As a child growing up in California, Woods would list Nicklaus' accomplishments on the wall in his room. The 18 major championships Nicklaus won, long considered an untouchable record, will be seriously challenged if Woods remains injury-free and as focused as he appears to be.

If anything, Woods doesn't seem satisfied with what he has accomplished in a career that is less than 4 years old.

"I guess I've exceeded a few [goals], and I'm behind on others," said Woods, who is two years younger than Nicklaus was when he finished his first career Grand Slam and 16 years younger than Hogan was when he became the oldest player to do so.

"So far, I've had a wonderful young career, and hopefully I can continue having the success I've had. If I don't, that's fine, too. I am going to keep working on my game, keep trying to get better, and we will see what happens."

That is a scary thought, particularly for those trying to beat a legend in the making.

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