Ferocious Tiger wins one-sided fight as Old Course is powerless to bite back

Click to follow
The Independent Online

He cut through the choppy wind of the Old Course and established proprietorial rights to the 134th Open and, it was almost impossible not to believe, his 10th major title. He has done this to tournaments so many times before but rarely has he made it look so easy.

Here is one detail from the golf log which at one point threatened some ultimate, unworldly perfection: "D-W-20"... that was the cryptic language describing the way he consumed the 480-yard, par-four fourth for the first of seven birdies in nine holes: driver, wedge, 20-foot putt. He made it so effortlessly he might have been negotiating a pedestrian crossing in Budleigh Salterton, and at such times the terminology of golf shrivels. It is like hanging a mechanic's worksheet on a fiery chariot.

The one bearing Woods, it has to be said, did suffer a diversion or two, but even three visits to bunkers - which here are supposed to be tickets to the game's death valley - did nothing to detach us from the sense that Tiger, with his re-made swing and his steely belief that he is merely in the foothills of his impact on golfing history, is on a course that simply cannot be blocked.

When he won here five years ago - by eight shots and at an astounding 19 under, Woods avoided the sand over 72 holes. That was considered an ultimate example of course management, something to bring a flash of envy from the great Jack Nicklaus, who is likely to receive his last hurrah at Swilcan Bridge and the 18th fairway today, but we saw something more yesterday as Woods moved inexorably to the top of the leaderboard with a round that was one shot better than his daunting opening statement in 2000.

While he lost two shots in the sand - and the possibility of a 64 that would have been death to the competitive psyche of every rival, and the 66 was merely devastating - there was another absurd line in the details of his round. It recorded Woods' progress to his third birdie of the day at the 390-yard seventh: "3W-BKR-W-4". Translation for non-cognoscenti: Three-wood, bunker, wedge, four-feet putt. The wedge was a miracle of finesse and placement - as was his second shot into the fabled road hole 17th a few hours later. He forced a par and stopped the erosion of his lead with a second shot that flew at the green and stopped as though mesmerised. The crowd sucked in their breath and, some time later, roared.

Woods marched home with his eighth birdie of the day, and then when you ran back the reel you saw a vision of absolute control of technique and temperament. Later, he brought gasps with his account of his mother's brush with tragedy in London, where he said she had been staying in a building close to a terrorist explosion. That, he reported, had played on his mind when he took off his cap and stood solemnly for the two-minute silence so movingly imposed on the great sweep of the hauntingly beautiful course they call the home of golf.

But then again we had another insight into the clinical mind of Woods the competitor. When the hooter sounded, and the game had to be resumed, the Tiger was once again in his own tunnel of ferocious commitment.

"I had to concentrate," Woods said. "I had a hell of a tough shot, so my focus went right to that. I was trying to hit a low, skipping spinner where it hit on top and grabbed and released on down." That was Tiger creating his own jargon, but it is not the terminology but the grace of the execution that will always linger in the mind.

Plainly he is convinced that he has come to another great peak of performance - the one that he was beginning to touch when he created his first astounding triumph here. Yesterday there was no hint of petulance or vexation. When a skylark flew across his line of vision as he set up for his first tee shot, he stepped back with a broad smile. Before Woods fired in another birdie at the ninth, a youth fainted in the gallery and a posse of security men and police went to his aid.

Again, the Tiger was serene through the disruption. At other times, fighter planes swooped along the shoreline, but though the course bit back to a degree, and at a cost of two bogeys at the 13th and the 16th, there did not seem to be even a hint that Woods could be brought down from his new level of confidence. "When I play here," he said, "I always feel I should win it - but you do that in every tournament. When I won in 2000 I realised I'd be exempt from qualifying and I thought, 'I may be here a while'. I don't enter the Open to finish second or in the top 10. You enter it to win - why else enter?

"I feel like I'm playing really well. I don't know if I have the same handle on the course I had five years ago, but it seems to be working pretty good... I have had two completely different winds here, the one in 2000 came off the right of the hole ... this time it is coming from the left. The holes seem different; the outward holes are much harder than they were last time. So the inward holes are the easier ones. Two totally different golf courses. But I still feel very comfortable out there."

That seemed like an understatement of considerable cruelty. While such as Retief Goosen, a multiple major winner, Britain's leading young contender, Luke Donald, and Jose Maria Olazabal joined a pack on 68, two shots off the Tiger's pace, it was still so hard to look beyond the control of the man who at one point had threatened to smash the 15-year-old championship record of 63 and simply outstrip all opposition.

It has long been his threat and his promise and he said: "I've been playing well and this is a continuation... In my last three events I've really played well. I'm just trying to build on that. I played well today and I feel good but in my mind it is nothing different to what has been happening recently. I do feel I'm where I want to be with my game."

The rest of golf, which for quite some time has been working hard on the idea of a Fabulous Four with Woods simply a member of a golfing élite rather than the heart of its universe, can only be cautioned in the most serious way.

Tiger Woods was variously entrancing and astounding yesterday, but most of all he was relentless. He was shrivelling the language of golf once again. In the gloaming, a challenge was indeed launched by Sergio Garcia, but the Spaniard is still in search of his first major. He is an ageing pretender. The Tiger, as never before, looks to be the master of his times.