Golf: The real test is to match Jack

Paul Trow hears an impressed Peter Oosterhuis mix caution with optimism
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The Independent Online
Peter Oosterhuis had seen nothing like it. A Masters competitor for more than a decade, the former European No 1 knows Augusta well and even tied for third there in 1973. Since then, he has moved from fairway to commentary box, and had an eagle's eye view of Tiger Woods' march to glory from his CBS eyrie above the 17th green.

Despite the evidence of his own eyes, though, the 48-year-old Londoner still sounded a note of caution. "Much as I admire what Tiger has done, and I have enormous respect for his talent, we need to see how he handles courses where there is greater emphasis on accuracy from the tee," the six-times Ryder Cup player said. "Tiger may turn out to be the greatest player ever but he has a long way to go and there are question marks over whether his back can withstand the pressure his swing puts on it. He's already had a few problems with it.

"Ultimately, though, everything he does will be measured against Jack Nicklaus's 18 major titles. That's his yardstick. Despite all the records he set at the Masters, Tiger's only got one major."

Now the Green Jacket has come off the peg, speculation has turned to whether Woods can complete the Grand Slam by winning this year's other three major titles. "You can't rule it out," Oosterhuis said. "Tiger has captured the public's imagination. CBS' ratings for the last two days of the Masters were the highest they had ever been.

"Both Troon and Congressional [the venues for this year's Open and US Open] are long courses and that must favour Tiger. Congressional has lots of par-fours of around 450 yards with uphill approaches. The difficulty at Troon [where Oosterhuis tied for second in the 1982 Open] is when to take the driver and when not to, but Tiger's long enough not to need it too much. For example, when Nicklaus won The Open at Muirfield in 1966, he only used his driver 17 times in 72 holes. He was long enough to hit irons off most tees.

"Then there's the US PGA at Winged Foot which is another long course, albeit very tight. I'm fascinated to see what happens over the rest of this season."

Perhaps the greatest fascination is how Woods manages to propel the ball so far with a shortened back swing and slim frame. "I think he's stronger than people give him credit for," Oosterhuis said. "He's done a lot of work in the gym and he has tremendous speed. He coils beautifully with everything working together - hips, legs and arms. His co-ordination and timing are exceptional. The obvious comparison is with Nicklaus. He was the longest of his day and it gave him a tremendous advantage. But we shouldn't just admire Tiger's driving. His short game was also brilliant at Augusta, and he holed several chips and long putts.

"Are there any weaknesses in his game? Not that I can see. He hit a wild drive at the end of his final round but a spectator put him off. I saw all his drives off the 18th tee. On the first three days they were identical, aimed six yards to the right of the bunkers with a slight fade and very long. After seeing those efforts, I don't think we can pretend he's wild off the tee.

"His form fluctuated earlier this season, but his father's ill-health was a distraction. He was fully focused at Augusta, though, which showed how strong mentally he is."

Another question posed by Woods' meteoric rise is whether other young talents such as Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson will flounder in his slipstream. "They're still good players," Oosterhuis said. "They are long hitters who can hit it further if they want to. But it's an interesting scenario to see how they'll cope. After all, Tiger was rather impressive at Augusta."