How the desire of Woods spells trouble for others
Sunday 24 July 2005
Woods never, ever deigns to sign up for the following week's PGA Tour event until the Friday evening deadline, not even when the sponsors happen to be Buick and not even when they happen to be paying him £5m a year for his endorsement. So his haste in winging his entry to the startled Michigan officials on Thursday lunchtime proved to his rivals one thing: Tiger's still hungry - and you lot remain on the menu.
Not that the 29-year-old will be pounding the top table at Warwick Hills Country Club in fury this week if someone else is gutsy enough to steal the daddy's chair. After all, the Buick Open is nothing more than an appetiser, albeit a quite meaty one with a first prize of £500,000.
Woods has the prospect of something far richer watering his mouth. It's called the USPGA Championship and it's in only three weeks' time. If the rest can't stop him - as St Andrews so blatantly signalled they can't - then can Baltusrol?
There are three schools of thought concerning the course that separates Woods from the finest major season in golfing history that would read 1-2-1-1 with a triumph in New Jersey. School A says that Baltusrol's renowned length plays directly into the strongest hands the sport has ever known and that the par-five, par-five finish will have these rubbing together so furiously he will likely need asbestos gloves.
School B is not so sure and warns that the feared bluegrass rough will encroach with such mischief on to the tree-flanked fairways that the premium will be on accuracy rather than big-hitting. They also point out that the 650-yard 17th is not reachable in two, not for Tiger or even John Daly, who was the only one to get up when the hole was 25 yards shorter in the 1993 US Open.
School C, meanwhile, says that Baltusrol is a golf course. And every golf course suits Tiger Woods. This school is very much in the majority.
In the wake of his fourth major victory by five shots or more (just one of many records he set in Fife) that is hardly surprising, nor is it that the phenomenon himself is paying so little heed to such blind faith in his brilliance that he will be travelling to a major venue earlier than he ever has before.
Remarkably, Woods has never played the 7,400 "monster", and even the knowledge that he usually wins where Jack Nicklaus usually did (Nicklaus won two US Opens at Baltusrol) will not stop him turning up a full week prior. A source in the Woods camp confirmed yesterday: "Tiger's thinking of going there on the Thursday previous because he doesn't take anything for granted."
Not even a swing that brought him eight majors by the age of 28, before he linked up with Hank Haney 15 months ago to overhaul it. Those such as Daly swear they can't see the difference although Nicklaus claimed: "I don't think I've ever seen Tiger swing it so well."
Haney agreed with the nod of the vindicated, breathlessly telling all who would listen that they had just witnessed Woods at last taking his practice swing out on to the course. The stern word from the Texan "Toil Baron" was that his pupil will now only get better as "we've still got a long way to go".
Statistically, however, it's really not that far. Woods has left the rest of the supposed "Big Four" flailing backstage since he broke to go solo (his four-point lead over Vijay Singh in the world rankings is the highest in two years) and now only Nicklaus is in his sights. Not too long ago, 18 seemed unbeatable - in truth, even a year ago - but now when you consider that Nicklaus was 32 when he won his 10th major and that Woods has 43 to contest before he is 40 it now looks anything but.
Before all that immortality, though, lies the immediate history to be made in Baltusrol. No wonder the rest will head to New Jersey with all the enthusiasm of a meet with Tony Soprano.
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