Shot heard around the world helps Tiger edge ever closer to Nicklaus

When does a golf shot have the effect of the dive of a hawk or the turn of a great thoroughbred's hoof or a punch delivered by someone like Muhammad Ali. If we didn't know before, we knew in a moment that stretched credibility in another high noon of burning heat yesterday. It is when it is made by Tiger Woods.

Woods has long been a contender for the most fabled and improbable of titles, that of the greatest sportsman of all time - a man who, in the impact he has had on his own sport, in his ability to squeeze out the pips of all opposition, has transcended every game we play.

This was a view that was as dramatically reinforced yesterday as any point in Tiger's mastery of modern golf. By the end of the day, he had just the margin of a shot between him and a resurgent Ernie Els, but then you had to consider the shot. It was one of the greatest anyone had ever seen.

Of course there had been so many examples of the sublime talent of the Tiger. His extraordinary chip across the moonscape of the 16th green at Augusta last year seemed to have explored the very limits of golfing possibility. But on that occasion the tough pro Chris DiMarco found the nerve to fight back, at least to the point of a play-off.

In two previous Opens he has pummelled down the opposition in great sweeps of accumulating power and virtuosity. But here yesterday, on the 14th hole, it seemed that he had gone further than that; it was as though he had simply drained away the idea of authentic competition.

Of course there might be eruptions of resistance. Someone might come bobbing, optimistically, out of the pack and show a brave face. But then suddenly it was hard to shake the belief that at the essence of the 135th Open there was really only one man.

Historically, the Tiger's 212-yard, four-iron eagle inevitably placed itself beside the famous Golf Shot Heard Around the World, Gene Sarazen's albatross at the 15th in the infant days of the US Masters. Certainly, you had every reason to order up a brass plaque - as they did a little way up the coast at Royal Birkdale, when Arnold Palmer once drove improbably, volcanically, out of the rough.

Yet this was so much more, you had to believe, than a single statement about the force of random inspiration.

It came from a body of work that has become stunning here... a piece of course management that in competitive terms suddenly began to look like nothing so much as the invasion of the psyche of 155 rivals by a player operating on his own terms and with his own vision of what could be achieved.

When the galleries exploded as Woods sank his shot, and Nick Faldo, a once great champion fighting now for nothing more than a chance to beat the cut, appealed for a little quiet, it was clear the sky-splitting cheers reached beyond one mere moment of sporting excellence.

They were about a sportsman claiming an extraordinary destiny, one announced nine years ago when he won the US Masters - as a 21-year-old - by such a margin that the quest seemed not a maiden major victory but the very re-defining of the game.

Now, here, he has made what many hard judges can only see as the decisive move towards his 11th major - a total which leaves him just seven short of the total of 18 by Jack Nicklaus, a mark that before the arrival of the Tiger had long been been assigned to the realm of the insurmountable.

But whatever the years bring, whatever challenges - and none had risen more strongly than that of the Tiger's compatriot Phil Mickelson - it seems that Woods always has another level of resilience, and resource.

Yesterday in the wake of that shot which gave him a three-shot lead and another surge of belief in a unique destiny, he agreed with some serenity that he had rarely ever enjoyed such a zone of comfortable creativity.

He spoke like a man who had suddenly been presented with a million options, all of them supremely negotiable, He was asked if he had ever used irons with such easy, brilliant authority; if he had ever conjured shots which moved on such a perfect line. "Yes, but maybe only once," he said. "At Pebble Beach in 2000."

That was the occasion of his third major triumph - the US Open. Though the brilliance of a recently faded challenger, Els, re-surfaced in the cool of the evening, it was still difficult to believe that the Tiger had not done the imperious groundwork for the 11th win - and another stride closer to Nicklaus.

Tiger said: "My best ever work with irons? OK, I felt like - to be very honest with you - I really controlled my flight.

"I really felt I was able to shape the ball both ways, and really control my trajectory. Sometimes it was higher than others, sometimes really low. But I was able to hit the golf ball on the flight that I really wanted to.

"When you are doing that you can look at your shots and see that they are mostly pin-high. It's awfully nice to do that on a links course. It's not easy to do on such a course. It's easy when it's plugging up there, but when you have to control the bounce on the greens and the fairways, yeah, I really felt I was in control of my flight today."

The belief that you are in charge of your own world, that you can do more or less anything you want, has maybe been put more lyrically, but the meaning of Woods yesterday went so much more deeply than the rhetoric of mere self- confidence.

It said much for the competitive honesty of Faldo that he was, despite his own disappointment, the first to recognise the extraordinary aura of the man who had treated him so coldly for two days.

"He's the best," Faldo said. "He's mentally the toughest. He's the most trained for what you have to put up with. He plays from the first tee with the 'Tiger Show' for 72 holes. All of a sudden the guys who play with him tomorrow are going to get out there with 60 cameramen and it will be a different world for them, and he is in the same mode all the time. That's what the great champions of any sport have: Bjorn Borg and others have been able to do this. They are in the same mode from the moment they walk out until the moment they finish."

Among the last of the viable challengers last night was the beautiful ball-striker Els, who drew within a shot of Woods at the end of a round which had seen a return to some of his most beautiful touch.

However, even as Els made his move quite majestically, there was still reason to tremble for his fate.

In the past he has admitted that the mere presence of the Tiger is enough to paralyse the greatest talent. Like Woods, Els had shot 65, had announced some of the form of his life. But he knew he had to take another vast step this morning.

The South African had to convince himself that, man to man, hand to hand, he could maybe beat arguably the greatest golfer we will ever see.

Life and Style
tech
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game