Both Tiger Woods and Nick Faldo cannot wait for next month's Open Championship at Muirfield. Woods will be aiming for the third leg of a calendar-year Grand Slam – his first Tiger Slam straddled the 2000-01 off-season – while Faldo will be returning to the scene of two of his Open victories.
Faldo had not expected to finish fifth in the 102nd US Open, but Woods was determined to win his national championship for the second time. As at Pebble Beach two years ago, Woods won by leading after all four days, and ended as the only player under par on the Bethpage Black Course.
Finishing amid the flash bulbs at 8.30pm following a delay due to a thunderstorm, Woods closed with a 72 but still won by three strokes. Phil Mickelson, for the second time at the US Open and the third time in majors, was runner-up after twice being within two shots of Woods before bogeying two of the final three holes.
Woods three-putted the first two holes and the 18th, but neither Mickelson, on his 32nd birthday, nor his playing partner Sergio Garcia were able to take advantage. Garcia finished with a 74 to be fourth, one behind Jeff Maggert.
It appears this is how majors are going to continue to pan out – Woods also won by three at the Masters after leading the whole afternoon – for the next decade, according to Faldo. "He is the man controlling the race," Faldo said. "If he slows down, the rest will slow, if he picks up the pace, they will go with him. He has such inner strength. The guys will not beat him until he is through setting records. And that might be another 10 years."
Woods has not lost a major when holding a 54-hole lead, and has won 28 out of 32 in his career. "If he is in the lead he is playing well," said Mickelson, who was third at Augusta. "It is hard to spot him five shots as I did today and still win."
Garcia said: "He is able to do whatever it takes to win." Woods, only the fifth player to win both the Masters and the US Open in the same year, has now won seven of the last 11 majors, exactly matching Bobby Jones between 1923 and 1930. Only Ben Hogan and Walter Hagen have had better streaks. It was his eighth major in all, putting him fifth behind Gary Player, Hogan, Hagen and the 18 of Jack Nicklaus.
"It is awesome to win our national title," Woods, 26, said. "I had to keep fighting all day but it is especially pleasing to win at a public facility in front of this crowd. I grew up playing at public facilities like this, and I've also slept in my car to get a tee-time."
Bethpage was the first municipal to have staged the US Open, and vocal New Yorkers made this an extraordinary championship. "It was an incredible atmosphere," Mickelson said. "The people of New York gave us quite an experience." The US Open will now return to Long Island in just two years' time, at Shinnecock Hills. Garcia will remember the week for a long time, as the 22-year-old Spaniard had a sporty relationship with the gallery. "I will be stronger mentally after this," he said. "I will learn from today. I put myself in position, and hopefully next time I will do a bit better."
Asked if he was thinking ahead, Woods said: "I'm not thinking about anything. I am going to celebrate this victory first." Muirfield, home of the exclusive Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, could not be a more different venue to Bethpage, but the course has a habit of picking the best players as its champions.
Faldo said: "One of the best compliments I've had is knowing that Tiger watched tapes of me winning at St Andrews before he won there. I am sure he will be watching the tapes of me at Muirfield. It's up to him to figure out the secret of the place. I have, but I'm not telling him."
On the longest US Open course ever, the 44-year-old Faldo scored his lowest round ever in the championship, and the lowest of the week. "I am chuffed to finish in the top 10," he said. "I didn't think I could do that at the start of the week but I had a good mindset. Everyone was going to make mistakes, and you had to accept them and move on.
"I have been working hard on my swing, strength, diet, and mentally, and it is a big boost at my age to know I am working on the right things."
* The Open at Muirfield on 18-21 July has attracted an entry of 2,250 – equal to Royal Lytham last year and the second highest on record behind the 2,480 for St Andrews in 2000.
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