Woods masters the thought process

Mental strength is the Open champion's most awesome weapon as the 'tigress' from Australia seeks similar domination in women's game

In a remarkably short space of time, he is after all only 24, Tiger Woods has ensured he will be placed among the greats of the game. The best ever? Only time can answer that question. What is certain is that he has equalled feats only the greatest have achieved, such as winning the US and British Opens in the same summer and, as he set out to do, completing the grand slam in awesome style in winning by 15 strokes at Pebble Beach and eight at St Andrews on Sunday.

In a remarkably short space of time, he is after all only 24, Tiger Woods has ensured he will be placed among the greats of the game. The best ever? Only time can answer that question. What is certain is that he has equalled feats only the greatest have achieved, such as winning the US and British Opens in the same summer and, as he set out to do, completing the grand slam in awesome style in winning by 15 strokes at Pebble Beach and eight at St Andrews on Sunday.

Pebble Beach has staged four US Opens, with Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson also among the winners on the Monterey Peninsula. In the Kingdom of Fife, the Old Course has seen many of the best players win the Open and not just because the course has staged the championship on more occasions than any other.

Woods won the 26th Open to be played here, just as Nicklaus did in 1970 and '78, Seve Ballesteros in 1984 and Nick Faldo in 1990. "Once again, the player who is dominating the world of golf has won at St Andrews," said Hugh Campbell, the chairman of the championship committee.

Far from becoming outdated by modern equipment, the Old Course, playing as a hard, fast-running links, provided an enduring challenge which only the world No 1 could master sufficiently. Woods set a new aggregate record for St Andrews of 269 and a new record for scoring to par in any major at 19 under. Conditions were benign, with only light winds, but even so the lowest score of the week was 66. "I don't call that tearing up the course," said Campbell.

For much of the final day, the world Nos 1, 2 and 3 were in that order on the leaderboard. They would have remained there but for David Duval's tussle with the Road Hole bunker. Duval played superbly on the front nine. He could have been even better than his 32 and needed to be. He got within three strokes of Woods but got burned, missing a putt on the 10th when Tiger holed his, and the tension eased.

Ernie Els led on the first day but had to settle for second with Thomas Bjorn. The South African has been runner-up in all three majors this year and admitted he could not have beaten Woods even by playing his best all week. "It is quite amazing that as competitive as the game is at the moment, one player can go away from the pack quite so easily," said Peter Dawson, the secretary of the Royal and Ancient.

But how long before the game tires of the Tiger parades? "It's good box office at the moment," said Dawson, "with a great style taking the game to new heights. Inevitably, if he wins every week he plays there may be a switch off, but it is up to the other players to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. There has always been great players to come along and succeed the current champions."

If the present crop of challengers are being eclipsed too easily, others will come through who knew nothing of the world before Tiger and will set their standards accordingly. Two such are the Australians Adam Scott, who has only just turned professional, and Aaron Baddeley, the amateur who won the Australian Open last year. Another could be Sergio Garcia, but the 20-year-old is far from the finished article, as he showed in slamming a club into the ground on Saturday. He has been fined by the PGA European Tour.

Amid the maelstrom that has been the last two majors, Woods has been the calmest person around. He knows exactly how to go about his business and focuses on nothing else. He claimed not to have seen the claret jug, which had been set out on a table by the first tee on Sunday. "Tiger is the complete golfer," said Campbell. "The most awesome part of his game is his mental strength. He is so focused."

Woods has always had the priceless ability to win the tournaments that matter most to him, through three US Junior titles and three US Amateurs to each of his four major triumphs. He merely gave a shrug when asked if he might ever tire of winning, but there will always be some events he wants to win more than others.

"To win a major championship is a different thought process and a different understanding of the game than at tour events," he said. "Most majors you have to understand that par is a wonderful score. That is the way the golf course is set up. Most tour events you shoot four or five under and you are four or five behind. It's frustrating when guys get off to such fast starts.

"Majors bring out the players who strike the ball the best, keep their emotions in check and make the big putts. It's always the same players time and again.

"But I'm surprised at some of the fortunate breaks I've had to have a chance to win by the margins I have. I hit some bad shots the last four days, but they ended up all right. You need to have some luck on your side. It's hard work but you also need some good karma."

Nicklaus, whose record of 18 major titles suddenly does not seem quite so out of reach, won by making the putts that matter. Woods does exactly the same but his ability to take on any shot puts him clear of the field. "I'll play any shot if it is the correct shot to play," he explained. "I've struggled this year with sweeping the ball from right to left. For some reason I've been able to do that this week. I prepared for this week because I knew the wind normally blows and you have to shape the ball both ways.

"One of the shots I'm most proud of was on Sunday at the 16th. People don't realise, to step up and hit a draw with a five-iron about two or three yards against the wind exactly where you want to land the ball even if it passes 30 feet away, that is when you know all the hard work is worth it."

At one point during the week, Woods was asked if he found it easy. "Easy?" he replied, startled at the question. "It's easy watching on TV." "You make it look easy," Woods was then told. "That's a nice compliment. When anyone is playing well, the game seems a littleeasier, but I guarantee it is not," he replied.

Next month he will defend hisUSPGA title in the steamy heat of Louisville, Kentucky. Before then, rest. There was no lingering at the scene of his latest trial. He was on a private jet back to Orlando as soon as his last media commitment was completed. "I'm going to wind down and relax a bit," he said. "I've worked very hard. I think my mind and body deserve a rest." So do the rest of the tour.

WOODS' WINNINGSIN 2000

Pos Score Money Mercedes Champ 1st -16 £318,545 AT&T Pro-am 1st -15 £452,403 Buick Invitational T2nd -14 £165,714 Nissan Open T18th -5 £23,560 AC World Matchplay 2nd n/a £314,720 Bay Hill Invitational Win -18 £343,183 Players Champs 2nd -9 £406,652 Masters 5th -4 £117,462 Byron Nelson Classic T4th -10 £116,026 Deutsche Bank Open T3rd -11 £87,368 Memorial 1st -19 £374,195 US Open 1st -12 £528,227 Western Open T23rd -7 £17,644 Open Champ 1st -19 £500,000

Total: £3,765,699

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