Door ajar for Woods to claim place in history

World No 1 sets sights on completing grand slam of majors at famous Old Course as former champion adopts disciplined approach
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The Independent Online

Tiger Woods is a 24-year-old with a deep sense of history. Yesterday he was presented with a 17-inch silver statuette of Harry Vardon to mark his victory at the US Open last month. Vardon, from Jersey, won the US Open exactly 100 years ago. He also won the Open six times between 1896 and 1914.

Tiger Woods is a 24-year-old with a deep sense of history. Yesterday he was presented with a 17-inch silver statuette of Harry Vardon to mark his victory at the US Open last month. Vardon, from Jersey, won the US Open exactly 100 years ago. He also won the Open six times between 1896 and 1914.

To listen to the talk since Woods won by 15 strokes at Pebble Beach, he could win all four majors at least that number of times. A first Open title over the Old Course this week would give Woods the so-called grand slam. Only Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus have won all four majors in their careers and Woods could do it in the quickest time and at the youngest age.

"As I said going into the US Open, if there is any two tournaments you want to win, you are going to want to win the US Open at Pebble Beach and the British Open at St Andrews," Woods said. "It is ironic that they are in the same year and that I have the chance to complete the slam on the most historic golf course ever designed. It is just a wonderful opportunity.

"But then again, if my career goes as long as I hope it will, I think I might have a few more opportunities to complete the slam. I know one thing, when it is time to play on Thursday, I couldn't care less about the slam. I will need to stay in the present, focus on the shot at hand and get the job done. If I don't get the job done, there will be no slam this year."

Getting the job done means there is probably no time to visit the grave of Young Tom Morris at the far end of the town. Young Tom was the youngest Open winner at 17 years, five months and eight days in 1868. He died at the same age Woods is now. Five years ago, when Woods played in the Open as an amateur, he did visit the British Golf Museum behind the Royal and Ancient clubhouse.

"You get to see the history of the course, what the players used to play with and what they had to deal with, and why the course was changed to 18 holes," he recalled. "These are the things that are just so neat and make it so enjoyable to come here and experience a piece of history.

"It is not too often in sport that you can go back in time and play a golf course that is almost identical to how it all started. I have the greatest admiration for this course, the conditions and traditions of it and the history behind it. Every time I play it, I learn something new about the course. That is one of the great things about it."

For yesterday's practice rounds the wind was lighter than the day before but from the opposite direction. Woods, whose preparation has also included watching videos of past Opens here, pulled his drive at the fourth and found his ball dangerously close to a bunker that only comes into play when the wind is helping from the right. Though the Old Course rewards length off the tee - only John Daly is longer than Woods, and he won here five years ago - Woods dispelled the misconception that direction is unimportant.

"People say all round the world that St Andrews is an easy course because you all have to do is aim left and hit it," he said. "That's not the case. With the fairways being as fast as they are, you need to position the ball off the tee. You have to be very careful. You keep it too far left and there are all those pot bunkers coming at you on the shared fairways. Run into those and you can only pitch out."

Woods, and the other long hitters, could hit drives of more than 400 yards and reach as many as six par-four greens from the tee. "But you need the right wind," Woods added. "Today I was only able to drive a couple of them.

"The weird thing, and I'm not the only one saying this, is to have the fairways faster than the greens. If you are 40 yards from the green and putt, it is going to slow down on the green. That's where you have to practice quite a bit. It's different from what we are used to playing in the States, but also at British Opens. It is not usually this hard and fast."

Most of the great players come to love St Andrews after initially disliking the place. Lee Westwood is trying to persuade himself he has made the conversion after disappointing performances in the Alfred Dunhill Cup. "Being here in October and freezing cold has not helped," he said.

"It is growing on me. I can understand what people like Seve and Tom Watson mean when they say they have grown to like it. I can see that happening to me. Hopefully, I'm going to play well. There is nothing like playing well to make you like a course."

Westwood, who has won his last two starts on the European Tour, mysteriously referred to something he has been doing over the last few weeks which would remain secret. It was not to do with the swing and certainly not with going anywhere near a gym. What the 27-year-old has been doing is not getting so impatient.

Having beat Woods at the Deutsche Bank Open he remains far from intimidated by the world No 1. "The US Open was a freak result," he said. "But he is so much better than everybody else that it is possible he can do the same again. I have full respect for his game and for him as a person because he is a nice guy. He handles himself well and he will obviously be a contender this week. But I am not worrying too much about him."

Westwood plays the first two days with Notah Begay and Jeff Maggert, with Woods also having a morning tee-time tomorrow with Nick Price and David Gossett, the US Amateur champion. Daly has been paired with Michael Campbell, third in 1995, and Steve Jones, while Nick Faldo partners Scott Dunlap and Player. The South African will be able to see if Faldo has improved after he said last year the Englishman was suffering from "paralysis by analysis".

Player tipped countryman Ernie Els but called Woods "a man who doesn't really have a weakness. He has dominated the sport more than anyone has ever dominated golf."

Nicklaus arrived for his last Open to find the course lengthened by 182 yards since his wins in 1970 and 1978. "Why the hell did they change it?" he said. "It's been the same since Julius Caesar came through here. They only have to change it because of equipment."

But the Bear added: "I really like what they have done with the fairways. They're going to be very fast. And they've outdone themselves with the bunkers. They are very, very, very difficult, the toughest I have ever seen."

Jean Van de Velde, who collapsed on the final hole at Carnoustie last year, will only be concerned if he is leading by three with a hole to play. "I could hit it into the hotel on 18," he joked. "Hopefully, there will be another story to talk about at the end of the week. I'll be more famous if I can win this year."