The first thing you should know about the Grand Slam, modern
golf division, is this: Nobody has ever won it. Not Ben Hogan,
not Arnold Palmer, not Jack Nicklaus, not even Tiger Woods.
Tiger's only halfway there now, but at better watercoolers
everywhere people are talking like it's a done deal.
That's because when Woods took the first two steps toward the
Grand Slam, at the Masters in April and the U.S. Open at soggy
Bethpage last month, he made victory look easy, and no golfer has
ever made winning look easy before, not since Bobby Jones,
anyhow. In his press conferences Woods spouts the company line.
He talks about the difficulty of the course, the competition, the
sport they play. He's pretending to be a golf traditionalist. His
record shows that what he is, in fact, is a golf radical.
Step 3 for Woods begins on July 18, at the British Open. The
last guy to get this far was Nicklaus. In 1972 he won at Augusta
and won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. The British Open, which
rotates among eight or so courses, was at Muirfield in Scotland
that year, just as it is this year.
Muirfield is a classic windblown links course, on the short side
(at 7,034 yards), with fast, narrow fairways and rough that
engulfs small caddies, to say nothing of balls. It is considered
by Nicklaus and many other of the best players to be the fairest
of the British links courses and therefore the one best-suited to
American golfers, who don't expect silly things to happen to
well-struck shots--and don't react well when they do.
In the weeks leading up to the '72 Open newspapers were filled
with stories assessing Nicklaus's chances. The Sunday magazine of
The New York Times ran a long feature written by Alistair Cooke
that included a picture of Nicklaus sitting in a golf cart above
the caption, "Toward the impossible dream." That's how the whole
thing was viewed "back in the day," to borrow a phrase Tiger
At William Hill, the chain of British betting parlors, the odds
on Woods's winning the British Open are 11 to 8. You put eight
pounds down on Woods, and the house gets the rest of the
field--Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh,
defending champion David Duval and 150 others. If Woods wins, you
get back a measly 19 pounds. The odds of Woods's winning the
British Open and the PGA Championship in August at Hazeltine,
outside Minneapolis, are 4 to 1, down from the 50-to-1 odds he
was listed at before the Masters. If he wins both, it's the end
of golf as we know it.
"What everyone thought was impossible, Tiger wants to prove is
possible," says Nick Faldo, who won the British Open at Muirfield
a decade ago. "He's ticked off he didn't get proper credit for
winning the Grand Slam when he did."
In Woods's mind--and Faldo's--he has already won the Grand Slam. He
won the U.S. Open in June 2000 at Pebble Beach, won the British
Open a month later at St. Andrews, won the PGA Championship at
Valhalla that August, then won the Masters the following April,
in a new year and a new season. It was the most dominating
stretch of golf ever played, but many observers couldn't bring
themselves to drape the Grand Slam sash on Woods. They (we) cited
a technicality, that the four wins have to be in the same
calendar year, as if this stuff were codified somewhere. "Call it
what you want, I had the four trophies on my mantel," Tiger says.
Woods was given an itty-bitty title all his own: the Tiger Slam.
Evidently that phrase didn't satisfy him much, which is why we
are where we are this year. The man, now 26, is ready. If you're
not, you've got a little time to get your head out of the sand.
The Internet is not a fad, and Tiger will win the Grand Slam.
Woods has eight major titles. He's 10 behind Nicklaus, still the
leader in the clubhouse, but only for a while. Faldo predicts
that Woods will win at least 12 of the next 20 majors. Throughout
his career Nicklaus has been the most gracious runner-up you
could imagine. (He had plenty of practice, finishing second in a
major 19 times.) He might be back in that role sooner than he
could have possibly expected.
Nicklaus grew up on the legend of Jones, winner of a different
Grand Slam. In 1930 Jones--courtly Atlanta lawyer, iron-willed
amateur golfer--won the U.S. and British Opens and the British and
U.S. Amateurs. They were the four most important tournaments of
the day, a day when amateur golf was more closely followed than
the pro game. The Masters didn't exist. That invitational
tournament, for leading professionals and top amateurs, debuted
in '34 and quickly became a high-status event for one reason
above all others: Jones was its host.
Twenty-three years after Jones's sweep there was no consensus on
what constituted the Grand Slam. The PGA Championship and the
British Open overlapped, both played in early July. In 1953
Hogan, the crusty Texan, won Jones's event at Augusta, then won
the U.S. Open at Oakmont. Hogan chose to play in the British
Open, his first and only appearance in it. He won, at Carnoustie,
and upon his return to the States he rode up Broadway in a
convertible through streams of ticker tape. It was an
achievement, winning the two big Opens and that young April
tournament, the Masters, to boot.
Seven years later Arnold Palmer, at the height of his powers, won
the Masters and then the U.S. Open, at Cherry Hills, outdueling
Nicklaus and Hogan. A few weeks later he was flying across the
Atlantic, first to play in a team event in Ireland, then to
compete in the British Open at St. Andrews. On the flight over he
was sitting with one of his buddies, the late Bob Drum, a
Pittsburgh newspaperman. "I said to Drum, 'No one is ever going
to win the two Opens and the two Amateurs in the same year again.
The pro game is too big. They ought to have a new Grand Slam: the
Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA
Championship.' Drum was an enterprising man, and he ran with it."
Palmer finished second at the British Open that year, a stroke
behind Kel Nagle.
That leaves us with the two most recent players to have won the
Masters and the U.S. Open in the same year: Nicklaus in 1972 and
Woods in 2002. Nicklaus began the British Open at Muirfield with
a single purpose, a sore neck and long odds--50 to 1, by his own
overly modest estimation, though the bookies had him as the
2-to-1 favorite. "I was consumed with the idea of winning the
Grand Slam," Nicklaus says. "I had won all the majors, a couple
of times each by that time, and that was the only thing I had not
accomplished in my career. I couldn't help but be consumed with
Since Nicklaus was consumed with it, and Nicklaus's career is
Woods's road map, you can imagine what Woods is feeling right
about now. Woods is expected to play this week at the Western
Open, near Chicago. You can't engage him in an extended
discussion about the Grand Slam or even Muirfield. He is world
class at responding to questions politely and emptily. But watch
him at work at the Western, particularly if there's a big wind
blowing, giving the players a preview of Muirfield's winds. He'll
be the only guy truly loving it. He'll be playing the Western but
looking ahead, honing his game for the British.
At Muirfield, Nicklaus opened with rounds of 70, 72 and 71. He'd
won the Masters and the U.S. Open with MacGregor clubs, but at
Muirfield he was using Slazengers, the clubs he was contracted to
use outside of the United States. He played the course
conservatively, often hitting an iron off the tee, just as he had
done when he won his first British Open, also at Muirfield, in
1966. With his neck hurting--a bad night's sleep did him in--he
couldn't make the swings he wanted. After three rounds he trailed
the leader, Lee Trevino, by six. When he woke up on the morning
of the last round, the pain in his neck was suddenly gone. (He's
been traveling with his own pillow ever since.) Over breakfast he
told his wife, Barbara, that he would win the British Open. Such
In the last round Nicklaus finally let it rip with the most
lethal club in his bag, the driver, and made a barrage of
birdies. Woods, a superb student of golf history, no doubt knows
what Nicklaus did at Muirfield. With the fairways firm and fast,
Woods can hit his two-iron off the tee as long as and straighter
than other players hit their three-woods. Come Sunday, in the
unlikely event that he needs to make up ground, he can remove the
tiger headcover from his big stick and go really, really low.
In '72 Nicklaus closed with a 66 that left him a shot behind the
Merry Mex. Nicklaus shook Trevino's hand as he came off the final
green, told him he was a great and deserving winner and said,
"But why don't you go back to Mexico?" Nicklaus loved competing
against Trevino, a friend, but his loss to him at Muirfield, he
says, ranks among the most disappointing moments of his career.
The two golfers never talked in detail about the '72 British Open
until a couple of weeks ago. Trevino told Nicklaus the gory
details of how he had hacked up the 71st hole, chipping in for
par nonchalantly when he figured he was out of it.
Before the tournament Palmer thought Nicklaus had a good chance
at Muirfield because "everything was going for him," but in those
days Arnie was still betting on himself. At the U.S. Open this
year, in a bet with his girlfriend for stakes he would not
reveal, Palmer took Woods against the field. He'll do the same at
"Tiger's focus is different from the other guys'," Palmer says.
To a generation now gray-haired or bald or getting there, Arnie
is still the King, but Woods has already passed him in majors
won. "The other guys are trying to win a tournament," Palmer
says. "Tiger has major goals in mind, big-time stuff, history."
With four par-4s measuring less than 400 yards and three
eminently reachable par-5s, Muirfield could play right into Tiger
Woods's hands. But he'll have to stay out of bunkers like the one
guarding the 18th green (above).
HOLE PAR YDS.
1 4 448
2 4 351
3 4 378
4 3 213
5 5 560
6 4 468
7 3 185
8 4 443
9 5 508
OUT 36 3,554
10 4 475
11 4 389
12 4 381
13 3 191
14 4 448
15 4 415
16 3 186
17 5 546
18 4 449
IN 35 3,480
TOTAL 71 7,034
possible," says Faldo. "He's ticked off he didn't get proper
credit for winning the Grand Slam."