A graying Scottish woman named Wendy, who had just walked 18
holes with David Toms and Tiger Woods as their scorer, showed
off her reward to a friend near the Old Course clubhouse early
on Saturday evening. It was a third-round pairing sheet with
Woods's autograph. Toms signed it, too, which Wendy wasn't as
enthused about, but, of course, it would've been rude, Wendy
remarked, not to ask Toms to sign it. Toms was playing in his
first British Open and had shot a respectable 71 but had still
lost ground to Woods, who by virtue of a five-under 67 had
stretched his lead to six shots and left the 129th Open with nae
wind, nae rain and nae suspense. "Toms played beautifully,"
Wendy told her friend as the two admired the souvenir, "but
Tiger made him look ordinary."
Welcome to major championship golf in the new millennium.
Everyone whose first name isn't an animal is made to look
ordinary. "If I were in my 20s, and I knew I had no hope of
being considered the best player, that would be tough," said
40-year-old former PGA champion Paul Azinger, who tied for
seventh. "In my 20s I was in an era with no dominant player, and
a lot of us held out hope that maybe we could make that Number 1
ranking. Johnny Miller, Tom Weiskopf, Tom Watson and Lee
Trevino, those guys were great players, and they kept Jack
Nicklaus from winning a lot of tournaments, but they were never
considered the best players of their era. You've got a whole
host of players like that today."
Now that Woods has identified himself as the next Nicklaus--or
better--the task at hand is to identify the next generation of
Nearly Men, those players whose career accomplishments will be
diminished and very likely overshadowed from going toe-to-toe
with Woods. Two familiar candidates stepped forward again at the
Old Course. One was Ernie Els, who became the first man to
finish second in three straight majors, which, depending upon
your half-full/half-empty view, was a remarkable feat of
consistency or a dubious achievement. The other was David Duval,
who got to within three shots of Woods on Sunday but ended up as
Road Hole roadkill.
Their futures, though bright, come with questions. How many
major titles will Woods's presence cost them? Will they ever get
their due? Or, like Billy Casper and Bruce Crampton and all
those others who played in Nicklaus's shadow, will we even know
what is due them? As it stands, Duval, 28, still doesn't have
his major and after his 71st-hole train wreck, doesn't even have
his No. 2 world ranking. He dropped to third, behind Els, who
has won two U.S. Opens but is wondering whether he has what it
takes to beat Woods.
On Thursday morning Els flipped on the television to get a
glimpse of the first-round pin positions. He knew Tiger was
playing early, and he knew what to expect, but that didn't make
what he saw any less demoralizing. Woods was at it again,
piecing together a flawless opening round of 67. "When you see
Tiger at five under, and you haven't even started your round,"
Els said on Thursday night, shaking his head, "you know you've
got your work cut out."
Still, for a day, it looked as if the British might not be a
sequel to Woods's 15-shot U.S. Open romp. Els one-upped Woods
with a first-round 66 and talked like a man who had had enough.
"If he beats me by 15 this week," Els said of Woods, "there
should be an inquiry."
There was no inquiry. Woods won by a mere eight shots over Els
and persistent Dane Thomas Bjorn. Duval closed the gap heading
into the back nine, but then slipped to 11th after needing
four swipes to escape the feared Road Hole bunker en route to a
quadruple-bogey 8. Woods had reached the 17th with a comfy
nine-shot lead. "You know, the guy's 24 and he's lapping us
every time," Els said on Sunday. "I'm 30, I'm supposed to be in
my prime, and I know a lot about the game and this golf course.
When you've got a guy who's fearless and playing with so much
confidence, well, it's tough to get to that level."
This comes from a player who reboubled his efforts this year.
Els admittedly was distracted between owning houses in three
countries, getting married and becoming a father. His career has
been a mix of brilliance and maddening mediocrity. He switched
teachers, going from Robert Baker to David Leadbetter. Els has
five second-place finishes on the PGA Tour in 2000 to show for
his hard work. Woods won four of those events.
Els's Open hopes died on Saturday. He bounced back from a
pedestrian 72 in the second round to birdie five of the first 10
holes of the third round. Then he blew a tee shot into the gorse
at the 12th, a drivable par-4, and took a double bogey. "In the
past you could get away with that because the other guys were
going to make mistakes, too," Els said. "You can't do that now.
Tiger doesn't make mistakes."
Duval played Woods-like golf during an 18-month stretch from
late 1997 to early '99, piling up 11 victories. His British
resurgence, sparked by the return of his putting touch, came
while playing with a back that bothered him so much that he
stood during pressroom interviews. A session with Tom Boers, a
back specialist who has worked on Fred Couples and Davis Love
III, apparently helped the injury, which has hindered him since
just after the U.S. Open.
Duval played his way into contention on Saturday with a 66 that
featured the kind of good fortune that he hasn't seen for the
past year. His drive at the 18th hole skidded right and could
have ended up on Links Road and out of bounds. Instead, the ball
kicked back to the left, and Duval made a birdie that got him
into Sunday's final twosome with Woods. "A couple of months ago
that ball probably goes out of bounds," Duval said after the
round. "It feels like the worm has turned."
Chasing Tiger gave Duval a chance to erase the bad memories of
the 5-iron he had hit into Rae's Creek on the 13th hole at
Augusta that ultimately cost him the Masters in April. Duval
made it a game on Sunday with four birdies on the front nine,
but a birdie putt he left inches short at the 10th was a
momentum killer. Woods made birdie at that hole. There was a
two-shot swing at the 12th when Duval made bogey after a failed
bump-and-run and Woods birdied again.
Chalk up round one of the Duval-versus-Woods rivalry to Woods.
"Let's be realistic, there has not been a rival, period," Duval
said before the final round. "No one has stepped up and played
with him." After he'd lost, a disappointed and contrite Duval
lauded Woods's play and described it as "efficient."
Following the awards ceremony spectators poured out of the
grandstands and onto the streets of St. Andrews. Duval and Els
stood together on the clubhouse steps. Nobody seemed to notice
considered the best, that would be tough," says Azinger.