To the prediction in this space, after both the Masters and the
U.S. Open, that Tiger Woods will win the Grand Slam, we now offer
this addendum: some year. The soaking seaside blow last Saturday
afternoon robbed him of his 2002 Grand Slam bid. When was the
last time you saw him playing without a cap? Never. The raindrops
were pouring off the brim, and he could not go backward,
Griffey-style, as he did at Bethpage. His lid would have gone
flying in the 30-mph gusts. When was the last time you saw Woods
shoot 81 in a major? Never.
Don't look for him to win the PGA Championship at Hazeltine next
month either. The emotion of the year has been robbed from him
now. Woods is the king of the grinders, but his greatness is
rooted in his desire to make history. Three majors in one year?
He's already done that. The wait for next year has begun.
God bless Scotland, the Royal & Ancient, the craggy linksland and
the weather. Muirfield was short for a major, a pitch shot more
than 7,000 yards and playing much shorter. But when the fairways
are narrow and fast, when the rough is knee-high, when the skies
go from blue to gunmetal gray, when the tents rattle in the wind,
when the players bundle up in two layers of cashmere and a rain
suit, 49-year-old Des Smyth of Ireland is as good as Tiger Woods,
at least for a while. Nick Price, always smart, looks smarter yet
right about now. All through the Tiger Era he has been saying
that if you want to bunch the fields, make the courses shorter
and tighter and the greens a touch slower. Last week Price, 45,
Scott Hoch, 46, and Mark O'Meara, 45, were all better than Woods.
Remember when the Masters used to be an exciting tournament--a
couple dozen trees, a few hundred yards and two inches of rough
ago? The British Open is still a thrill. Price says the U.S. Open
should go back to bony old Merion. He has the right idea. Pine
Valley would be perfect, too, if only the club admitted women.
Tiger has been using Jack Nicklaus's 18 major titles as his mile
marker since boyhood. (Woods is at eight and holding.) But at
Muirfield last week he showed how much more he has learned from
Nicklaus. Woods's disappointment was profound in Saturday's
gloaming. A chance to win the Grand Slam had come and gone, but
like Nicklaus before him, he never made an excuse. After enduring
an afternoon in which he took 81 whacks and went through a dozen
gloves, he showed grace. "I tried on each and every shot," he
said. "That's the best I could shoot." Yes, fellow grown-ups, you
may put his poster up in your bedroom.
July 28, 2002
Last week at Muirfield the refrain from the long bombers--some of
them, anyway--was, They're taking the driver out of my hands.
Woods lodged no such complaint. All he'll do is work harder and
get straighter off the tee. Woods shot an easy 65 playing with
Jeff Maggert, his accuracy god, on Sunday. Mags, as Woods calls
him, trying to sound like one of the boys, hits more fairways
than Woods, hits more than just about anybody. Not for long.
American golf has always had a keeper of the flame, an ancient
who teaches by example. O'Meara is that player today. O'Meara and
Woods made the slog through the Muirfield links together on
Saturday. Marko, as Woods calls him, shot a 77. It has been noted
before that Woods doesn't play his best when paired with O'Meara,
his neighbor and friend. It really doesn't matter. There was an
important observation to be made last week, and only O'Meara was
in a position to make it. O'Meara: "I said to him on Saturday,
'Look, we're both struggling here. But at least you're acting in
the proper manner.' I know he was down because he'd love to win
the Grand Slam, but he's only 26."
O'Meara had it exactly correct. You can do all the right
exercises, eat all the right foods, work the hardest and have the
best coaching, but in the end, some weeks the wind, the rain or
the age-old rub of the green will have the final say. There is
the real God, there is the accuracy god and then there are the
golfing gods. They had a message for Tiger, and for us, straight
from the black Scottish night: Not just yet.