Is Tiger ready?" David Duval asked on Sunday night, standing
with his bags packed in front of the Old Course Hotel in St.
Andrews, Scotland--the birthplace (and perhaps final resting
spot) of golf. Three hours earlier Duval, the world's No. 2
player, was beaten, in ridiculous fashion, by Tiger Woods in the
British Open, as were 71 other also-rans, and now, in the dark,
Duval again deferred to the champion. A private jet idled at
Leuchars Royal Air Force base, five minutes away, a winged
chariot that had been chartered by the agency that manages both
Woods and Duval. It would fly the two men--the Open's final
pairing--to Orlando, along with Australian pro Stuart Appleby.
Of course, there was no need for anyone to leave for the air
base until Woods appeared outside the hotel. While the plane
would not hesitate to take off without Appleby, "it's not going
anywhere," Appleby said, "without Tiger."
Even to those who are tired of Woods--who are Tiger-fatigued--what
happened next was arresting. Woods emerged from the hotel with a
totem under each arm: One was a symbol of his old-soul
experience, the other of his unfathomable youth. In his right
hand was the claret jug, awarded to the Open champion. In his
left, a carry-on bag bearing a faded sticker of the cartoon
character Cartman, from South Park. "Bye, Mom, I love you," said
Woods, kissing his mother, Tida, at the curb. "I'll call you when
I get back." With that, Woods and his girlfriend, Joanna Jagoda,
disappeared into a courtesy van, leaving Mom, history, Hogan,
Nicklaus, drama and whatever remained of competitive golf all
standing at the curb, waving goodbye.
With his 19-under-par performance at the Old Course, Woods lapped
the field by eight strokes, 35 days after winning the U.S. Open
by 15. In doing so, he achieved a career Grand Slam at age 24,
two years younger than Jack Nicklaus was when he did it. Golf has
gone strictly black-Thai, and it's no longer optional. Woods now
holds the record for most strokes under par in the Masters, the
U.S. Open and the British Open. Until three-putting the second
green last Saturday, he had played 63 consecutive holes in major
championship competition without making bogey. "He's the best who
ever played," Mark Calcavecchia sighed on Sunday, "and he's 24."
How dramatically did Woods complete his reinvention of the game,
on the site of its actual invention? Consider this watershed,
remarkable for its sudden lack of remarkability: With Woods
having won the the PGA, the U.S. Open and the British Open and
Vijay Singh having won the Masters, it has been more than a year
since a white guy won a major championship. St. Andrews may be
the home of golf, but Woods has become the game's absentee owner.
"Somebody out there," said Thomas Bjorn, who tied for second last
week with Ernie Els, "is playing golf on a different planet."
July 30, 2000
In fact, the entire field at St. Andrews played on the cratered
surface of the moon. The Old Course's famous bunkers--essentially
uncovered manholes--were steepened further for the millennial
Open. If that news wasn't ominous enough, an attendant bearing a
seven-foot rake followed each group, like Death with his scythe.
On Sunday, Duval took four strokes to get out of the Road Hole
bunker on 17, the infamous Sands of Nakajima, as the Grim Raker
discreetly averted his gaze. Woods likewise looked away.
Earlier in the week Calcavecchia and Sergio Garcia had both
putted away from the six-foot-high wall of that bunker before
even attempting to pitch out. Tsuyoshi Yoneyama blasted out
backward, toward the tee box. But Woods, almost embarrassingly,
played 72 holes on a course with 112 bunkers and never soiled his
trouser cuffs. Given the 10 pieces of luggage that he and Jagoda
carried to Scotland, he could afford to have done so. "He brought
everything," said his mother, "except kitchenware."
But then, Woods demands order and routine at the majors. For four
days he is afflicted with a kind of tournament Tourette's,
exhibiting countless obsessive compulsions. In practice he
sometimes requires himself to hole 100 six-foot putts.
Consecutively. Using only his right hand. He also barks the odd
obscenity after tee shots, as he did last Thursday after pulling
a ball into the rough on 17.
He's a neat freak who picks lint off greens with the
fastidiousness of Felix Unger. He turned his back to the gallery
on most fairways last week to honk into his hanky or apply
eyedrops with a Poindexterous proficiency. For just under the
surface of Woods's Nike-baked glaze remains a golf wonk named
Eldrick: When they were teammates at Stanford, Notah Begay called
the allergy-addled, dickie-wearing freshman Urkel. Urkel's mother
said of her son on Sunday night, "If he tried to boil water, he
would burn the pot."
Yet for all his manifold tics--the honking and sneezing and
barking--Woods goes placid as a Zen garden before hitting a golf
ball. That is his physical genius. "All players have some preshot
routine," says Nick Faldo, the next iciest golfer of the last 15
years, whose British Open low-aggregate record Woods broke at St.
Andrews. "Tiger has blitzed all that. There's no twitch, no lift
of the hat, no wasted energy."
Nick Price was paired with Woods for the first two days of the
Open and, following a 5 1/2-hour round that didn't end until
Friday evening, came off the course thoroughly flapped by Woods's
unflappability. "He's on cruise, man," said Price, desperately
flicking a disposable lighter in the manner of someone who had
just witnessed a riveting calamity. "I'm telling you, he hasn't
even tried any shots yet...(flick!)... I've seen him mishit
only three shots this week...(flick!)... I played like that
once in my life, at the PGA...(flick!)... He's played like
that four or five times now and will do it 20 more times." Price
finally produced a flame and sparked a cigarette. "Tiger cut a
three-wood off the tee at 17 today, and I smoked a driver," he
said, exhaling. "He was a yard past me."
Woods led the tournament by three strokes at that point. In the
entire tournament, during which he had rounds of 67, 66, 67 and
69, he didn't make a single eagle. Besides driving distance, he
led the tournament in only one other statistical category: low
David Toms played with Woods for the first time on Saturday and
was struck dumb by "his focus." It nearly rhymed with psychosis.
"I have never seen so many people on a golf course," said Toms,
who finished 10th on the PGA Tour money list last year yet is
largely anonymous in this unlucky generation of professionals. "A
lot of those people are screaming at him, sometimes when he's
standing over a shot. It is awesome to watch."
It's not that Woods can't hear the gallery, with its
Caesar-entering-Rome salutations, from the center of his roped
corridors. To the contrary, he hears everything. In the dead
silence of the 6th fairway on Saturday, Woods backed off his ball
and glared at the crowd for reasons--a moth fluttered its wings in
Madagascar? a dolphin squeaked beneath a distant sea?--known only
to him. He's most assuredly not saying. Woods gives away nothing
in postmatch interviews. No emotions, no personal details
whatsoever. He treats every press tent as a sensory-deprivation
Woods's gallery was managed last week by an elite commando unit
of golf marshals, the same men who have worked his rounds at the
Open since Troon three years ago. They went about their grave
business--containing the streakers, sportswriters and other
degenerates who pursue Woods in a massive conga line inside the
ropes--with paramilitary zeal, all but singing boot-camp-style as
they marched up the fairways. I wanna be a golf-course ranger!/I
wanna live a life of danger!
Such vigilance is now necessary on golf courses, thanks largely
to Woods. A tournament-record throng of 230,000 attended this
year's Open, and it finally overwhelmed Her Majesty's Marshals on
Sunday evening, breaching the security cordon on the 18th fairway
and pouring forth behind Woods like water through a burst dam,
threatening to carry him to the green. Security guards who had
evidently cut their teeth on soccer hooligans pitched at least
two spectators into the Swilken Burn, the creek that runs across
the 1st and 18th fairways. The man working the massive scoreboard
behind the green, understandably addled, mistakenly posted
Woods's score not as -19 but as -29, giving him an 18-stroke
lead, preposterous even by his present standards.
When Woods finally reached his tee shot on 18, a comprehensively
tanned woman, wearing but a tattoo, gamboled from the gallery to
the green, where she grabbed the flag and danced around it as if
it were a maypole. Just like that, half of Scotland looked like
Tiger--wearing scarlet on Sunday. Inside the 146-year-old Royal &
Ancient clubhouse, monocles fell into soup tureens. When a
policeman finally bundled the streaker from sight, Woods chipped
on and two-putted. His world domination was complete. Thus was
ushered in the Leaden Age of Sportswriting.
For what will be left to say of Woods's golf game five years,
five months, five weeks from now? "He has to have challengers for
the whole thing to be right," Nicklaus told a tentful of scribes
last week. "It's a bad story if there aren't any challengers. You
guys won't have anything to write about."
Indeed, last weekend saw the final pages flipped on some cosmic
Chinese golf calendar--from the Age of the Bear to the Age of the
Tiger. When Nicklaus putted out on 18 on Friday, ending what is
presumed to have been his final round ever at the British, Woods
happened to be 50 yards away, near the 1st tee, practicing his
putting in advance of his own round. He didn't applaud Nicklaus,
and scarcely even looked at him. There is a joylessness to
Woods's appointed rounds. Not so with Nicklaus, who, having
missed the cut at the Old Course, immediately scheduled a leisure
round for Sunday, his 40th wedding anniversary. "I played golf
the day I got married," he reasoned. "Barbara didn't mind it
then; she certainly won't mind it now."
Woods may have learned too well from Nicklaus, whose records were
taped to the headboard of Tiger's bed even at age 10. Of his list
of achievements, Woods actually said on Sunday night, "I thought
I'd be at this point faster than it took," which is to say
sooner. With such ambitions, victory results not in joy but
relief. Woods's smile, while famous, is far too infrequent. More
often he wears the game face: It could serve as a gargoyle on the
gray granite buildings of St. Andrews. He doesn't save his game
face strictly for the golf course, either. Woods and Mark O'Meara
spent the week before the British Open playing golf and
fly-fishing in Ireland. O'Meara caught a six-pound Atlantic
salmon one morning after Woods had slipped off to eat breakfast.
When Tiger returned to see the fish, his face betrayed something
other than delight. "I could tell," says O'Meara, "he wished it
had been him who caught it."
So it is with majors. Woods wants all the fish worth catching,
and he intends to take his limit. Things could be worse for his
colleagues: Colin Montgomerie has become wealthy winning 24
nonmajors, nine of them named for car manufacturers. "I'll go on
doing what I do, winning the Volvo PGAs," he said last week,
staring into a bland, if lavishly automotive, future. Likewise
Ernie Els. Or rather, Ernie Ls: He has finished second to Woods
four times--this year. "Everybody," says Nicklaus, "has thrown up
the white flag and surrendered." Then again, says Calcavecchia,
"If Jack was in his prime today, I don't think he could keep up
"There's no doubt that we're playing for second place," Bjorn
concurred on Saturday night. On Sunday afternoon Bjorn proved it,
seizing that second-place tie with Els, securing for both men a
coveted silver...salad plate.
Is it any wonder, then, that Montgomerie snapped, "Next
question," when Woods's name was raised in the interview tent
last week? Els was asked to talk about Woods 45 seconds into his
session with the press after taking the first-round lead. "C'mon,
that's not fair," said the Big Easy, uneasily. "I just shot a 66.
If you want to talk to Tiger, call him on the telephone."
Good luck getting through. "Gods do not answer letters," John
Updike wrote of Ted Williams, who refused to tip his cap after
homering in his final at bat at Fenway. Woods, another athletic
prodigy who sounds as if he's no fun to fish with, doesn't take
phone calls. He has his circle of friends, but most adhere to a
strict code of omerta--or is it a code of O'Meara?--that ensures
the public will never likely get to know him. Which is fine,
because his performances will more than suffice as entertainment.
"Why does the writing make us chase the writer?" the British
novelist Julian Barnes wrote of the modern obsession with
celebrity. "Why aren't the books enough?"
With Woods, the books are enough, and will remain so. "When
Michael Jordan played, I pulled for him," Toms said after his
professionally unsettling yet oddly uplifting Saturday round with
Woods. "As a sports fan, I enjoy seeing a top athlete perform at
One only hopes that Woods can enjoy his feats as much as others
do. When Justin Leonard, briefly a contender to Tiger's
generational supremacy, won the British Open at Troon in 1997, he
sneaked back onto the course at midnight and drank champagne on
the 18th green. While Woods left St. Andrews in his jetwash well
before the clock struck 12 on Sunday, he did celebrate in a small
way, a way that suggests he might one day loosen up, maybe even
undo the top button of his polo shirt.
Before leaving town, he ducked into a building on the grounds of
the Old Course and said thank you to the tournament committee. He
posed for pictures while flustered staffers struggled to work
their Instamatics. Finally, claret jug in his left hand, he
raised a glass of champagne with his right. Said Woods, "I'd like
to make a toast to St. Andrews."
The new and future champion took a small sip, grimaced a small
smile and, another duty done, politely began to make his exit.
But his girlfriend wouldn't have it. "Keep drinking!" Jagoda
ordered. Woods, dutifully, emptied the flute.
"Everybody has thrown up the white flag and surrendered,"
Nicklaus told the scribes.
"I played like that once in my life, at the PGA," said Price.
"He'll do it 20 more times."
"If Jack was in his prime today, I don't think he could keep up