On same course as Jack, Tiger searches for a different outcome

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- Tiger Woods might want to think about bringing his own pillow to Muirfield for the British Open.

Muirfield is the next destination on Woods' improbable journey toward an indisputable Grand Slam, just as it was for Jack Nicklaus in 1972. Nicklaus won the Masters and the U.S. Open, and had high hopes of winning all four majors in one year.

Until he got to Scotland.

"I had hurt my neck on Sunday before the tournament, and I was tight in the back and couldn't swing," Nicklaus said. "I was determined that I was going to try to do the best I could with what it was. It finally loosened up about Saturday. I kept myself reasonably close to contention and almost won the golf tournament.

"I was really disappointed and upset. Ever since then, I've carried my own pillow with me."

Maybe a bad back will stop Woods. Nothing else seems to be working.

His eighth major championship at the ripe age of 26 was another example of mental toughness, raw power and the ability of Woods to do whatever the situation required.

He three-putted the first two holes for bogey to bring Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia back into contention, then did not make another bogey until it didn't matter.

Woods had birdie putts on every hole but one, had to chop out of the gnarly rough on only two holes and never let his lead shrink below two.

The result was a three-stroke victory over Mickelson, making Woods the first player to go wire-to-wire in the U.S. Open twice. He also ran away from the field at Pebble Beach two years ago, winning by 15 shots.

Woods made it look easy on the longest course in U.S. Open history (7,214 yards), but he swears that wasn't the case.

Tough to win it

"I don't think anyone realizes how tough it is to win a major championship," said Woods, who now has won seven of the last 11 -- as many in three years as Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen won in their careers.

The next one could be the toughest of all.

Woods is only the fifth player to win the first two majors of the year, but just the third who has a realistic chance of the Grand Slam.

Craig Wood won the Masters and U.S. Open in 1941, but the British Open had been canceled that year because of World War II. Ben Hogan won both in 1951 and 1953, but in those days, the British Open and PGA Championship overlapped.

Palmer was the first, which was appropriate since he's the one who dreamed up the idea of winning all four professional majors in the same year. After winning the Masters and U.S. Open in 1960, the King charged with rounds of 70-68 on the final day but came up one stroke short of Kel Nagle's winning score at St. Andrews.

Nicklaus came just as close.

Once he got his back in shape and started pounding driver instead of irons off the tee, Nicklaus charged home with a 66 in the final round and even had the lead on the back nine until missing an 8-foot par putt on the 16th hole.

Lee Trevino chipped in for birdie from behind the 17th green, and beat Nicklaus by one.

Next month's British Open comes at a time when the careers of Woods and Nicklaus never have been more parallel.

Woods went 1-up on the Golden Bear by winning the U.S. Open. That gave him eight majors in his first 22 as a professional; Nicklaus only had seven at that point.

Consider the similarities:

Nicklaus won the Masters by three strokes and the U.S. Open by three strokes 30 years ago. That was the same margin of victory for Woods in both majors this year.

Nicklaus didn't win a major on a par-70 course until the 1967 U.S. Open at Baltusrol, his 22nd major championship. The Black Course at Bethpage was the first time Woods had won a major on a par 70, which also was his 22nd major as a pro.

In both seasons, the third leg of the Grand Slam was at Muirfield.

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