Hurricane Tiger sweeps in: ONE DAY IN AMERICA

Tiger Woods has taken the USPGA Tour by storm. Rupert Cornwell reports; GOLF
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Having defied history, the law of averages, and the best efforts of 80 of his peers to win his second professional tournament in this weekend, only one question remains to be answered about 20-year-old Tiger Woods: where will it all end?

The victory of golf's new sensation in the Walt Disney/Oldsmobile event in Florida at the weekend was sealed with a final round of 66, giving him a 21-under-par total of 267, and a one-stroke margin over Payne Stewart. Woods earned a $216,000 (pounds 135,000) prize and - even more indicative - a front page splash yesterday on the austere New York Times. Such is the growing phenomenon of Tigermania.

Instead of slipping into seasonal obscurity, golf is sharing the sporting headlines in America with professional football and baseball's World Series. And the reason for the excitement is no longer even that Woods is a coloured kid (his father is black, his mother is Thai) breaking into a white man's sport. That fact may have won him a $40m Nike sponsorship deal. But fans now turn out in the tens of thousands not to study his race, but to ogle a breathtaking swing that sends the ball further (and straighter) than John Daly.

Woods is hailed as the new Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus; in fact his debut has been infinitely more spectacular. In his first seven tournaments on the 1955 tour, Palmer had two top-10 finishes. Seven years on, Nicklaus had only one - although he would win the 1962 US Open. Tiger has now finished in the top five in five straight tournaments, the first player to do so since Curtis Strange in 1982.

He joined the tour in August after a third consecutive US Amateur title, with the goal of merely gaining his PGA tour card. Instead, in barely two months, he has won $734,794, putting him 23rd on the overall 1996 moneywinners' list and earning him a spot in next week's elite $3m Tour Championship.

Most chilling for his rivals, however, was Woods 'own assessment of his unbelievable streak. "I haven't really played my best yet," he said. "I've hit the ball pretty good but not the greatest, and I haven't had the greatest putting round yet."

Even so, success does not surprise him. "What you guys don't understand," he said after the Walt Disney victory, "is that when I was playing before in pro events I was a teenager, I was in high school and in college. I had term papers and exams... and I was never able to get into a rhythm to play. Now that I'm out here full time, just look at my finishes - 60th, 11th, fifth, third, first, third, first. It's kind of a good rhythm."

Comments