Woods moves majestically to grand slam

The Open Championship: World No 1 proves to be in a class of his own at the home of golf as he leaves Els and Bjorn trailing by eight strokes
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The Independent Online

On the eve of the 129th Open Championship there was a nostalgic parade of the past champions. Some of the greatest names in the game were collectively saluted on the Old Course. Yesterday Tiger Woods, who is certainly the greatest player of the current time and may one day be considered the best ever, received his own benediction at the home of golf.

On the eve of the 129th Open Championship there was a nostalgic parade of the past champions. Some of the greatest names in the game were collectively saluted on the Old Course. Yesterday Tiger Woods, who is certainly the greatest player of the current time and may one day be considered the best ever, received his own benediction at the home of golf.

As has been obvious for some time, not even the second best player in the world is in the same class as Tiger Woods. David Duval did his best to provide a competitive contest on the final day of the Millennium Open, yet Woods still turned the closing stages of a major into his own personal fanfare.

This was already a special week, but by lifting the silver claret jug for the first time Woods ensured its place in history. At 24, he is the youngest to complete a career grand slam, but most significantly, he is only the fifth to achieve the feat after Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus. "Oh, man," Woods said when handed the trophy. "This has been an incredible week. To have the opportunity to complete the slam at the Open at St Andrews, the home of golf, is something I will never ever forget."

Of the distinguished quartet he has now joined he said: "Those are true champions and they have won countless tournaments and have been the cream of the crop. To be in the same breath as those guys makes it very special, I guess. You know it was very special coming up the 18th to look at all the surroundings and to see what was transpiring. I had played so hard for 72 holes and to have the chance to two putt to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish was incredible."

It took Woods 15 majors to claim all four titles, three less than Nicklaus. The Bear went on to do the grand slam three times over, claiming 18 majors in total, but Tiger is on the chase. "I have been fortunate to have my game peak at the right times," he said. "You need to peak four times a year and you hope, wish and plan to do it, but for it to actually happen is great. I've exceeded a few of my goals, but I'm behind on a couple of others. Hopefully I'll continue to have the success I've had. I'll keep working hard and see what happens."

Woods is also only the sixth player to win both the Open and the US Open in the same summer, Tom Watson being the last in 1982. He won the 100th US Open by 15 strokes and the margin here was eight. Old Tom Morris's 13 strokes from 1862 still stands but Woods did claim the record for the lowest score to par in majors. At 19 under, he passed Nick Faldo's score here in 1990 and his own score at Augusta in 1997 by one.

If Woods was hoping for the Old Course to challenge him, only a light breeze graced the links for the fourth day running. Though remaining essentially conservative in his approach but continuing to hole the putts that mattered, Woods scored a 69 to become the third champion, after Greg Norman and Nick Price, to have four rounds in the 60s. "I couldn't care less about the scoring record, all I wanted was four straight rounds in the 60s," he said. "That was something I did not do at Pebble Beach or at Augusta. Finally to get the job done was a great feeling. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of playing well here, of making some long putts and two-putting from 100 feet."

As for the bunkers being a hazard, he added: "I was in a bunker every day I've been here, but it was on the practice range."

"It was a spectacular performance," said the deflated Duval, who was threatening at the turn but came home in 43. "He didn't make the mistakes and capitalised at the holes where you would expect. He is playing very efficiently."

Six ahead of Thomas Bjorn and Duval at the start, Woods saw his advantage cut to three by his fellow American, who had the services of Greg Rita on his bag, John Daly's caddie in 1995. Duval's putt at the first ran over the edge of the hole but he birdied four of the next six. Ernie Els, who faded after being the first-day leader, also made a charge with four birdies in the first five but could advance no further. Woods's only birdie on the front nine came at the fourth and he had to work hard for a par five at the fifth.

But Duval, who will have to continue his search for a first major title, three-putted at the same hole and, though he was out in 32, his chance was gone. Woods drove the green at the 379-yard 10th and gained another shot by two-putting for birdie. He also found the putting surface at the 314-yard 12th, while Duval's drive finished on the right. His chip slipped off the shelf at the front of the green and he took three putts to get down.

The bogey, his first for two days and only his third of the week, meant a two-shot swing and Duval dropped two more shots before the R and A engraver started his work. Woods bogeyed the 17th, his only dropped shot of the day, but avoided a Van de Velde-like collapse. Instead, Duval got into the Road Bunker and suffered the indignity of taking four to get out, leaving Els - for the third time in majors this year - and Denmark's Bjorn sharing second place.

Magnanimous in victory, Woods put his arm round Duval's shoulders as they walked off at the last and said at the prizegiving: "David didn't have the day he would have liked but he acted like a champion." As for the runners-up, he added: "I'm sorry I made a few putts this week."

Woods, who turned pro in 1996 after winning three US Amateur titles, has now won 27 times in 102 tournaments. But it is since completing his swing changes in May last year that he has dominated the game like few before. In the last 14 months he has won 16 times in 29 events. Last year he earned £4.4m and the £500,000 cheque he received last night took his season's tally to £3.75m. He has not pocketed the cash and sat back.

He is not just the most technically gifted, the most mentally strong, but the fittest and the most ambitious. "The guy is simply in a different league," said Faldo.

"He has thrown all the old myths out of the window, that you can't physically train for golf, you can't be strong or you will lose your touch.

"With all the knowledge I have now, I'd love to be 15 again and spend five years working hard physically, technically and mentally. All these 15-year-olds have to stop eating the doughnuts and get out there. If you are going to compete with and beat Tiger, you have to be out there doing as much if not more. He just keeps ploughing on and never comes backwards. It's almost as though now the guys will pick events to play in and play the Tigerless tour to have a chance to win."

The real problem for Woods' opponents was summed up by Paul Azinger. "What really stinks is the fact that you can't control him. In every other sport you can control your opponent except for this one."

The Record Man

Best score to par in amajor, 19 under (18 under, Nick Faldo, 1990 Open, St Andrews; Tiger Woods, 1997 Masters, Augusta

The third Open champion with four scores under 70 (Previous: Greg Norman, Royal St George's, 1993; Nick Price, Turnberry, 1994)

The 15th player to win two majors in a year

The first player to win consecutive majors since Nick Price (Open and USPGA, 1994)

The sixth player to win the US Open and the Open in the same year

(Bobby Jones 1926 and 1930, Gene Sarazen 1932, Ben Hogan 1953, Tom Watson 1982, Lee Trevino 1971)

Fifth player to win all four major championships (Woods, 24, is the youngest and, in less than four years, the quickest)

First player for 28 years to hold three major titles at the same time (Jack Nicklaus - 1971 US PGA, 1972 Masters and US Open)

Players who have won all four majors

Gene Sarazen Masters 1935 US Open 1922, 1932 Open 1932 USPGA 1922, 1923, 1933

Ben Hogan Masters 1951, 1953 US Open 1948, 1950, 1951 Open 1953 USPGA 1946, 1948

Gary Player Masters 1961, 1974, '78 US Open 1965 Open 1959, 1968, 1974 USPGA 1962, 1972

Jack Nicklaus Masters 1963, 1965, 1966, 1972, 1975, 1986 US Open 1962, 1967, 1972, 1980 Open 1966, 1970, 1978 USPGA 1963, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1980

Tiger Woods Masters 1997 (by 12 strokes) US Open 2000 (by 15 strokes) Open 2000 (by 8 strokes) USPGA 1999 (by 1 stroke)

Woods' wins in last 14 months

May 1999: Deutsche Bank Open Memorial Tournament July: Western Open August:USPGA Championship NEC World Invitational October:Disney Classic US Tour Championship November: AmEx World Championship World Cup (team and individual) Grand Slam (unofficial) January 2000: Mercedes Championship AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-am March: Bay Hill Invitational May: Memorial Tournament June: US Open July: Open Championship

...And the records he might break in the near future By winning the USPGA at Valhalla next month, he would become first player to win three majors in a year since Ben Hogan in 1953 (Masters, US Open, Open) By winning the 2001 Masters he would become the first player ever to hold all four major titles at same time By winning the Open at Lytham next year he would become the 11th player to retain the title