Golf: The taming of a young Master

Disappointment again for the prodigal as an underachiever secures his first major while Ryder Cup team takes shape; After winning at Augusta, Tiger Woods has not made the impact expected in the year's other majors. Andy Farrell reports
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The Independent Online
Who would of thought a young American who came close to winning two majors this year was not called Tiger Woods? In fact, he was named Justin Leonard and the Open champion was only thwarted in claiming a double with the US PGA Championship at Winged Foot by a brilliant final-round 66 from Davis Love.

Love's victory by five strokes meant he was the first thirtysomething to win a major this year, and the third first-time winner after Woods and Leonard. Woods, the youngest US Masters champion at 21, trailed in 17 strokes behind Love after a closing 75 left him six over par.

Post Augusta, where he won by a record 12 strokes, there was huge speculation about Woods doing the mythical Grand Slam. Woods did nothing to dampen down the furore.

"You have to win four times in the right weeks," was the gist of his reasoning. By the start of the US PGA, he had changed his tune. "Realistically, it is next to impossible," he said.

While Love never finished lower than 16th in the majors this year, and Leonard joined him in having three top-10 finishes, Woods was 19th at the US Open, 24th at Royal Troon and 29th last week. On Sunday, he began the final round eight strokes off the lead and immediately bogeyed the first. He missed a birdie chance at the second and entered in distracted- putter-twirling mode.

By the time he double bogeyed the ninth, stubbing a chip and three points, the putter was getting clearance from air traffic control on its journey back to the bag.

At Augusta, he was 18 under par. In the three remaining majors, he was 12 over. For just 10 holes of those three tournaments, he was 24 over. At the US PGA he had four doubles, including two during a third round when he was ideally placed to charge.

At Troon, Woods had two triples and a quadruple bogey. Without those, he would have finished second but the world No 1 has learned a hard lesson in course management. While Augusta National, a unique style of layout, is ripe for being overpowered, Woods has found that more traditional major championship sites demand more. Congressional, scene of the US Open, Troon and Winged Foot each provide a severe test of every department of a player's game.

In practice for the US PGA, Jack Lumpkin, Davis Love's coach and a former assistant pro at Winged Foot, kept emphasising the need to get the ball back in play quickly from the rough. Byron Nelson, one of the legends of the game, told Leonard exactly the same at a pre-tournament reception. Even John Daly got the message. "You have no choice when you go in the rough but to take your medicine and chip out," he said after his opening 66.

Too often Woods tried to blast away from the long grass. For his troubles, he left with a sore ankle. Of course, his aggressiveness is what makes him so special. A brilliant slicing six-iron out of the trees, which finished 12 feet from the hole, was reminiscent of Seve Ballesteros. But, as with the Spaniard, you have to ask what he was doing there in the first place. "I hit too many bad shots," Woods said. "It'll be different next year."

Two remarks made in the wake of his Masters runaway come to mind. "Up to now Tiger has only won on resort courses," Colin Montgomerie said. "I'm not saying Augusta is a resort course but there is the same amount of room off the tee." Woods has seven professional victories but none of them have come on tight courses which test every club in the bag.

And Ernie Els said: "It's when you have disappointments in majors that you start thinking that it is not too easy. It may happen to Tiger."

Woods has given golf the youthful image it needed and done much to raise the standard of everyone else's game, but he is still two weeks away from completing his first year as a professional.

Montgomerie added last week: "Experience is one thing, but you cannot beat talent. I noticed that at the Masters in a big hurry playing with Tiger on the Saturday afternoon. Everyone said he wasn't experienced. Big deal, right? The guy has immense talent and you can't beat that."

In golf, however, there are two other opponents: yourself and the course. Conquering both of those, as well as 155 other players, every week just does not happen.

Tiger Woods' major performances in 1997

The Masters, Augusta

70, 66, 65, 69 Won by 12 strokes

The US Open, Congressional

74, 67, 73, 72

Finished 19th

The Open, Troon

72, 74, 64, 74

Finished 24th

The USPGA, Winged Foot

70, 70, 71, 75

Finished 29th