'Mere mortals' try to stop the charge of Tiger

Andy Farrell, in Bethesda, Maryland, looks at golf's major attraction at the US Open which starts today
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The Independent Online
All you need to know about the US Open was contained in an incident involving Brad Faxon. When a spectator asked Faxon to pose for a photograph, he replied: "It's the US Open; I can't smile." And that was only Monday.

The US Open, never big on laughs, is renowned for producing winners who are not necessarily the best in the world but have tungsten-lined cardiovascular systems. But the era of the Andy Norths - no one is quite sure how he came to win two US Opens - is meant to be over now that we have Tiger Woods. As at Augusta, Woods is in line to break more of Jack Nicklaus' records. Victory here would make him the first player since the Golden Bear, who plays his 150th major championship alongside his son Gary, a qualifier, to win the first two majors of the year.

Woods is adamant he will not think about the Grand Slam unless he is leading going into the final round of the US PGA with the first three legs in the bag. But as he has found in the last two months, that does not stop people making up their own minds about what he should or should not be doing.

"The thing that has changed dramatically in my life is the nitpicking of what I do, people critiquing all my actions," Woods said. He admits he cannot get everything right, and misses not getting a bit of peace and quiet during a practice round. The Masters champion attempted to find some yesterday when he went out at 6.15am, only to be asked to leave the course after a few holes because it was not yet open.

Tigermania has reached the proportions where the 21-year-old receives between 2,000 and 4,000 letters a week and, like only Michael Jordan, Woods has his own Nike label of clothing. However, the media and political backlash has also kicked in, starting with Woods describing himself as "Cablinasian" rather than belonging to one of the established ethic groups. The latest controversy involved his coach Butch Harmon, who works at a course in Houston, Lochinvar, which excludes women. "I can't be a champion of all causes," Woods said.

After his worst finish as a professional at the Memorial, Woods spent three days with Harmon at Lochinvar last week, finishing up with a 63 which could easily have been less. At 7,213 yards, the longest in US Open history, and with a par of 70, Congressional is long even for Woods. Hitting fairways and greens will be paramount and with the number of doglegs, Woods will only hit three drivers off the tee: at the sixth, 10th and 15th. Two of those holes are converted par-fives, while the 607-yard ninth is a three-shotter even for Woods.

Without the extreme advantage he had at Augusta, the theory is that Woods can hit lesser clubs as far as others hit their drivers, but is more likely to keep it out of the five-inch rough. "You have to keep the ball in play," he said. "My chances go up by hitting three-woods and two-irons."

This will be no runaway by Woods, but his challengers, among them Greg Norman and Nick Faldo who missed the cut at Augusta, know they have to leave the practice ground and hit the first tee running. "We didn't perform at all against him at Augusta," said a confident Colin Montgomerie.

"It was obvious to all that witnessed Augusta that Tiger was very comfortable playing that golf course and will be for the next decade or so. Here, it is different. His greatest asset, his length, is taken more out of the equation and gives us mere mortals more of an opportunity to compete. The playing field is more level.

"But we are all anxious to find out how he copes with this form of golf. If he copes with this and wins here, as well as at Augusta, then we are all in trouble."

Especially as the physical aspect of Woods game may not even be his strongest suit. "I feel my mind is the strongest part about me," he said. "The biggest asset I have is to be able to think my way around the golf course."

Exhibit one is the way Woods corrected a swing fault midway through his first round at Augusta, while his father, Earl, has taught him all tricks he learnt in the psychological warfare he endured as a Green Beret.

"He has passed on to me how to deal with adversity and I've had a lot of things to deal with since I've turned pro. I've noticed that once I start playing in a tournament, I'm fine. All the things my dad has taught me are definitely working." With Sunday's final round on Father's Day, Woods Snr, and the punter with a pounds 10,000 bet on Tiger, could be the only ones smiling.

TODAY'S SELECTED FIRST-ROUND TEE-OFF TIMES (BST; US unless stated): 12.30 C Perry, A Coltart (GB), K Green. 12.40 H Irwin, B Crenshaw, J Nicklaus. 12.50 F Couples, I Woosnam (GB), G Norman (Aus). 13.00 D Love, C Montgomerie (GB), P Mickelson. 13.20 C Strange, N Price (Zim), T Watson. 13.30 M Hulbert, L Rinker, P McGinley (GB). 14.00 P Harrington (Ire), D Waldorf, F Funk. 15.20 B Langer (Ger), Jumbo Ozaki (Japan), F Zoeller. 16.50 P Mitchell (GB), B Tennyson, G Nicklaus. 17.00 T Lehman, T Woods, S Jones. 17.10 T Kite, J M Olazabal (Sp), P Azinger. 17.20 C Pavin, N Faldo (GB), L Janzen. 17.30 P Stewart, E Els (SA), J Daly. 17.50 R Russell (GB), L Mattiace, G Kraft. 18.50 M O'Meara, L Westwood (GB), J Leonard. 19.10 P Broadhurst (GB), J Furyk, D Duval. 19.20: S McCarron, D Clarke (GB), J Maggert. 19.30 D White, M Dawson, *E Fryatt (GB).

*denotes amateur

Card of the course

Hole Yards Par Hole Yards Par

1 402 4 10 466 4

2 235 3 11 415 4

3 455 4 12 187 3

4 434 4 13 461 4

5 407 4 14 439 4

6 475 4 15 583 5

7 174 3 16 441 4

8 362 4 17 480 4

9 607 5 18 190 3

Out 3,551 35 In 3,662 35

Total 7,213 yards (par 70)