Woods slams home the message

Brawn and brain, ferocity and finesse, caddie with tactical nous: How Tiger keep his distance from the rest

It takes considerable skill to get under the skin of the Big Easy. Ernie Els would swat flies elegantly, then apologise. So when he showed more than a degree of irritation in the interview room two evenings ago, the eruption of Krakatoa could hardly have caused a bigger reaction.

It takes considerable skill to get under the skin of the Big Easy. Ernie Els would swat flies elegantly, then apologise. So when he showed more than a degree of irritation in the interview room two evenings ago, the eruption of Krakatoa could hardly have caused a bigger reaction.

The South African had just recorded the best score in the opening round of the 129th Open Championship, so had a right to be feeling pleased with himself. "Put it this way, Ernie," came the first questioner in reference to a distant second place in the US Open, "you can't imagine being 15 strokes behind Tiger Woods this week."

"Guys, that's a little unfair," Ernie replied in exasperation. "I just shot 66, talk about my round or just get on the phone." Nothing yesterday altered the fact that these days, win or lose, Tiger Woods is the epicentre of major tournaments. Today, if all goes according to what seems a preordained script, Woods will become the youngest player - and only the fifth ever - to complete the grand slam of major titles. It will be a parade quite as grand as the oneaccorded Jack Nicklaus for his farewell on Friday.

Three successive birdies just after the turn put clear blue water between Woods and his retreating posse of pursuers yesterday. With apologies to Els, the world number one is starting to transform a game of infinite complexity, particularly over as idiosyncratic a course as St Andrews, into a primary school exercise and, in the process, reducing some great players to the status of stooges.

"At the moment, Tiger is at least a shot a day better than anyone else," says Stuart Appleby, who would actually have beaten Woods in Waterville in the build-up to The Open, but for disqualification. "He has a sixth gear when everyone else has five."

Quite what gear Wood engaged early in his third round was hard to deduce. Short of his playing partner, David Toms, off the first tee, he laid up 40 yards short of his fellow American on the second and paid the penalty on the green. Faced with a 20-yard putt for birdie, Woods for once misjudged the length and missed the return for par, his first bogey in 64 holes of Championship golf.

Talk about cautious, this was Republican golf. Perhaps the overnight contemplation of 62 holes without a bogey, a figure which seemed to surprise him, had provoked such a conservative attitude. Perhaps, like the ancient makers of Persian carpets, who would deliberately weave a mistake into their pattern to let out the devil, Tiger was simply fending off notions of infallibility. He birdied the following hole, just in case human failing became a habit. Bogeys at the second and the 17th, a three putt after a delicate iron on to the green, were rare blemishes, "little mess-ups", as he termed them.

It was not until the eighth that Woods shed his lethargy, stroking an iron to three feet and moving two shots ahead of Els and Steve Flesch, the surprise package of this Open, with the birdie putt. A little punch of fists with Steve Williams, his influential caddie, signalled another birdie at the par-four ninth.

The renewed spirit of competition brought The Open back to life, though not for long. Before then, there seemed no pressing reason why the Claret Jug should not take the direct route from the boot of Paul Lawrie's car to the engraver's workshop and on to the overcrowded mantelpiece of the Woods home in Orlando, Florida, to be loaned back to the Royal and Ancient for a four-day period every July.

Woods' dominance owes nothing to the spectacular golf that has characterised the American's rise to omnipotence and everything to the studied calm of the experienced crossword puzzler. At times, notably at Carnoustie last year, Woods' conservatism in the face of a ferocious course cost him dear. It was as if he was denying his own powers. According to those closest to him, the arrival of Williams at the start of the season has added a critical extra tactical element to Woods' game.

"They make good, strong, confident decisions together," Nick Price, who partnered Woods on the first two days, said. "Squeeky [Price's late caddie] and I had a sixth sense about shots and these two have the same. Steve doesn't get the recognition he deserves." The size of his pay packet is some compensation. Williams was recently listed as New Zealand's top-earning sportsman. "He can just read me," Woods says. "To the point where he knows when to say something and when not to. And we genuinely like being around each other." With rounds lasting up to six hours during the first two days, it was just as well.

Power alone does not frighten rivals - John Daly has tons of it - the combination of brawn and brain does. "He seems to have learnt as much about the game in 24 years as I have in 43," added Price.

The spectacular shots have been confined to a minimum, mostly it has been routine officework. Like his height, you are never quite sure about the source of the brilliance. Sometimes, you sense that, in the absence of notable challenges from course, nature or opponent, he puts himself into some difficult positions just to keep his mind working. His inelegant hack out of the rough at the Road Hole on Thursday was followed by a well-manufactured recovery from the scrubby grass in front of the road on Friday. "I would love to see it get windy," Woods said. "It would be nice because I think that is what a British Open - sorry, the Open championship - is all about."

A rage of King Lear proportions might have tested the full range of Tiger's repertoire, which, in practice, included an experimental blast with a five-iron at the face of one of the deepest bunkers. The theory was that the ball would ricochet back on to the fairway. Others think fleetingly of playing shots like that and reject them just as quickly. The difference with Woods is that his natural ability matches his fertile imagination. And the equally daunting fact is that the American - Cablasian, as he calls himself, an amalgamation of Caucasian, Black and Asian - not only relishes the challenges of links golf, an enthusiasm not shared by some of his countrymen, but has adapted his game with remarkable facility to its peculiar demands.

His ability to fashion a shot was nowhere better demonstrated than on the par five fifth hole in his second round. Short of the green in two and faced with a shot from a hollow on to the green with the pin uncomfortably close to the front, Woods chose to putt. For a moment, the ball tottered on the top of the mound before rolling gently down for a tap-in birdie. It was a shot of confidence and feel, but only when Nick Faldo, playing in the following group, had exactly the same shot moments later did the extent of Woods' finesse become apparent. Worried about the ball dropping back down on to his feet, Faldo overcompensated and left his putt 20 feet past the hole. The contrast between current and past champion was too obvious to ignore.

Yesterday's brush with the Road Hole brought a glimpse of Woods' intricate thinking. On the tee, he chose one of the letters out of the sign advertising the Old Course Hotel, dependent on the strength of the wind and how far he wanted to hit the ball. For the second, he flighted a ball two yards to the right in a controlled draw on to the green. "It was a beautiful shot," Woods said. The broad smile siggested as much, though three putts ruined the craftsmanship anyway. Woods will play with David Duval, a good friend, on his final round today. In truth, though, his closest companion for the next decade will be history.

Sport
Brazilian fans watch the match for third place between Brazil and Netherlands
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: Dutch pile on the misery in third place playoff
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?