Tiger Woods sees the world in narrow focus. Ball. Target. The
space between. ESPN's Chris Berman walked up to him as Woods was
hitting balls on the Pebble Beach practice range last Saturday,
before the delayed start of the third round of the 100th U.S.
Open, and tried to arrange an on-camera chat. Woods politely
brushed him off. NBC course reporter Roger Maltbie asked Woods
if he would take part in a preround interview. Woods said no.
"They pay me the big bucks to ask you," Maltbie said with a smile.
Woods's expression said, They pay me the bigger bucks to say no.
Woods sees himself as an icon, one for the ages. That was evident
in the stone-cold way that he went about winning his first U.S.
Open and third major title, with the most dominating four-round
performance in the history of major-championship golf. His
winning margin was 15 strokes--two better than the record for a
major set by Old Tom Morris at the 1862 British Open against a
field of about a dozen--and his manner of winning was
intimidating. Woods hit longer, straighter drives than anyone
else. He flew iron shots that held on Pebble's small, firm
greens. He never three-putted. This made even the most
accomplished players look uncomfortable and unworthy. "Tiger has
raised the bar," said Tom Watson, who won his only U.S. Open at
Pebble Beach in 1982, "and it seems that he's the only guy who
can jump over that bar."
That Tiger has raised his own standard by so much, while already
the No. 1 golfer in the world, was the biggest revelation of this
millennial Open. The extreme conditions of the layouts in past
U.S. Opens have always exposed the holes in Woods's game. He was
either a little too wild off the tee or lacked distance control
from the fairway or didn't have a steady touch with the putter.
But through his ceaseless work with his swing coach, Butch
Harmon, he has mastered every shot in his deep arsenal.
If the goal is to beat the entire golf world into submission,
Woods is practically there. In the last two years he has refined
his game, and now he is the world's best driver of the ball, its
best iron player, best chipper and best putter. But above all he
is the game's most focused player. The week before the Open, he
spent three days in Las Vegas with Harmon, and part of his
preparation on the driving range at Rio Secco Golf Club involved
simulating all the shots he would need at Pebble Beach. "We
really didn't have to fix anything in Tiger's swing," said
Harmon. "We just had to shape some shots, curve the ball a bit
differently for some of the holes out there."
Still Tiger was not satisfied. On the eve of the Open, he spent
extra time on the practice green at Pebble Beach even though he
was putting superbly. "I didn't like the way I was rolling the
ball," he said after his first-round 65, during which he needed
just 24 putts. "I was making quite a few putts in practice
rounds, but the ball wasn't turning over the way I would like to
see it roll. I worked on it for a couple of hours and found that
my posture was a little off. My release wasn't quite right." For
the championship he took a total of only 110 putts, tied for
sixth-best in the field.
His work ethic was the source of some controversy the day before
the tournament when he skipped a ceremony honoring the late Payne
Stewart, last year's Open champion, and instead chose to play a
scheduled practice round. To those who criticized him for that
decision he replied, "I felt going [to the ceremony] would be
more of a deterrent for me during the tournament, because I don't
want to be thinking about it." So much for sentiment in the march
No less an authority on athletic intensity than NHL coach Scotty
Bowman, who has won eight Stanley Cups, marveled at the
single-mindedness of Woods's focus. Bowman walked the course with
Tiger's twosome on Sunday as a USGA scorer and said, "His eye
contact is right with his caddie and nowhere else when he's
preparing to hit a shot. He's oblivious to everyone else."
The pursuit of perfection can be lonely, but in Woods's case it
is not without passion. Even with a commanding seven-stroke lead
on Saturday morning, when he hit his tee shot onto the rocks left
of the 18th fairway, a microphone caught his sulfuric response.
"I got a little angry and let the emotion get the better of me,"
he said later.
That fire was unquenchable even as he waltzed to victory. When
the sun went down on the Monterey Peninsula on Sunday night, he
held tournament records for the largest lead after 36 holes (six
strokes), lowest 36-hole score (134, tied with Jack Nicklaus,
T.C. Chen and Lee Janzen), largest 54-hole lead (10), lowest
72-hole score (272, tied with Nicklaus and Janzen), most strokes
under par (12, tied with Gil Morgan, who reached that total in
the third round in 1992, only to collapse and finish tied for
13th) and, of course, largest margin of victory.
Woods seemed merely to toy with and tease the Open field. In
meddlesome third-round winds he made a triple bogey and a bogey
on the front nine but still produced enough birdies to make the
turn in par 35 and stretch his lead from six strokes to nine.
Buried in a dense nest of grass atop the lip of a fairway bunker
on the par-5 6th hole on Saturday, Woods still made birdie by
punching his approach to 10 feet. Woods made practically every
par-saving putt over four days, even the 15-footers. "He's
playing every shot like his life depends on it," said Denmark's
Thomas Bjorn, who played with Woods on Saturday.
By the time USGA president Trey Holland handed Woods the
Championship Cup on Sunday afternoon, any doofus who still
questions whether Woods is the world's best golfer was left to
ponder these facts: Woods, at 24, has won a Masters by 12
strokes, a U.S. Open by 15 and a PGA Championship by a whisker.
When he wins the British Open at St. Andrews in July, he will
become just the fifth player--and the youngest by two years--to win
all four majors. ("If he doesn't win the British Open," said
recently retired Royal and Ancient secretary Sir Michael
Bonallack, "there should be a steward's inquiry.") And just to
numb you with numbers, Woods has won 12 of his last 21 PGA Tour
starts and this year has pocketed almost $5 million in prize
money. "We always felt someone would come along who could drive
the ball 300 yards and putt like Ben Crenshaw," Nick Price said
after his round on Sunday. "This guy drives the ball farther than
anybody I've ever seen and putts better than Crenshaw. He's a
The only brief insult to Woods's dignity came on the third hole
of the third round, when he needed three swings from the
greenside rough to get his ball onto the putting surface. The
triple bogey so devastated Woods that he took, oh, 60 minutes to
get his lead back to where it was. In the end he was light-years
ahead of the runners-up, Ernie Els, the two-time U.S. Open champ
from South Africa, and Miguel Angel Jimenez, the Ryder Cupper
So you had to wonder why Tiger was the guy spewing profanity on
Saturday morning, when America's tots and toddlers were gathering
to watch cartoons. Wasn't it the rest of the field that should
have been swearing like Long John Silver? The Duvals, Mickelsons
and Singhs? They, not Tiger, were the ones who couldn't handle
Pebble's thick rough, rock-hard greens and fickle sea winds.
Colin Montgomerie finished the tournament at 15 over par, and
when he was told he was leading the statistical category of
fairways hit, he shot back, "That's great. They should put the
hole in the fairways."
Some of the crankiness could be attributed to sleep deprivation.
On Thursday afternoon the Monterey fog rolled over the course
like a blanket pulled up to the chin, forcing a midafternoon
suspension of play. That left Tiger in the lead with a
six-under-par 65 and 75 players with 4 a.m. wake-up calls. More
fog on Friday morning forced further delays, so Round 2 leaked
into Saturday morning and Round 3 dragged on till Saturday dusk.
Woods, despite his morning drive onto the rocks, signed for a
second-round 69 and took a six-stroke lead over Bjorn and
Jimenez. He then retired to his room for a nap. It was a week of
It was also a week of goodbyes. Besides the touching salute to
Stewart, whose death in a plane crash last October kept him from
defending the Open title he had won so dramatically a year ago at
Pinehurst, there was the farewell to four-time U.S. Open champion
Jack Nicklaus. Playing his 44th and final Open, on the course
where in 1961 he won his second U.S. Amateur and in '72 his third
U.S. Open, Nicklaus shot 73-82 and missed the cut.
The King is dead. Long live the King.
The rest of the Open belonged to Woods. You had Tiger making a
30-foot birdie putt on the 12th hole to close out play at dusk
on Friday....Tiger hitting the ball on the rocks at 18 and
turning the air blue.... Tiger making his triple on number 3
without uttering a peep....Tiger smiling and shaking his head
after his miracle shot from the bunker lip at 6. You had Tiger,
and, come to think of it, that's about all you had. When he teed
off on Sunday afternoon, Woods enjoyed a 10-stroke lead and NBC
had a television first: a 6 1/2-hour telecast of exhibition
golf. (Still the overnight ratings were up a glittering 11% from
a year ago, further testament to Woods's popularity.)
Tiger reported to the 1st tee in a blood-red victory shirt and
then bled off any possible drama by making nine consecutive pars
in placid, sunny conditions. It wasn't until the back nine that
he made his play for history. Woods birdied 10, 12, 13 and 14,
taking his score to 12 under. On number 15 he flashed a desperate
grimace over a perfectly decent tee shot that landed in the first
cut of rough--a clear indication that he wanted to break records.
Padraig Harrington, the Ryder Cupper from Ireland, said he paid
no attention to what Woods was doing until he finished his own
round. "But afterward," he admitted, "I looked at the scoreboard
in total wonderment."
The microphones were still open when Woods stepped onto the 18th
tee, but this time they picked up nothing but the solid click of
his safe four-iron shot to the fairway. At the green he
two-putted for par and a record-tying 272, hugged the principals,
waved to the crowd and slipped three cigars out of his pocket,
handing them to his girlfriend, Joanna Jagoda. Notably absent on
Father's Day was his father, Earl Woods, who watched the
tournament by himself at his home in Cypress, Calif. "The reason
I didn't come up was that I wanted to give him the space to
perform and be himself," Earl said. "It's all part of the plan."
His son had fogged the field on Thursday and strolled home in
sunshine on Sunday, and by the time he was finished virtually no
one was prepared to say that Nicklaus, Watson, Bobby Jones or
anyone was in his league. The ultimate compliment came from the
novelist and longtime golf writer Dan Jenkins, chronicler of the
water-to-wine miracles of Ben Hogan. After watching Woods shoot
four straight rounds of par or better on a course that had
yielded only 32 subpar rounds by others, Jenkins said, "I saw him
do things this week that I never saw Hogan do."
Hogan, of course, didn't approach perfection until he was in his
late 30s. Tiger Woods has 22 more majors to compete in before he
turns 30. Don't think that he doesn't know it.
who can jump over it."
great. They should put the hole in the fairways."