Column: Woods' only competition is himself

Politically correct or not, I found myself rooting against Tiger Woods early Sunday morning.

Each time he hit a shot, I kept hoping it would get lost in the high grass or take a detour toward St. Andrew's Bay.

Hey, I respect the guy as one of the greatest golfers of all time and clearly the foremost athlete in the world today. But like every other sports fan, I get bored easily, and another Sunday stroll for Tiger in the British Open was about as exciting for me as watching the Steeldogs play their final home game of the season this weekend.

So I pulled and pushed and cheered for David Duval, whose personality ranks somewhere between Attilla the Hun and Al Gore. I tried to will his putts into the cup. I tried to help him with his shot selection on this goat hill better known as St. Andrew's, the birthplace of golf and the most famous track in the world.

And for a while, it seemed to work. Tiger's lead, which began the day at 6 shots, slipped to 5, 4 and then 3. I called neighbors and headed downstairs to wake up my wife.

Finally, it was happening. Finally, someone was going to stand up and steamroll Tiger. Someone was going to end his dominance of the game and bring some competition back. Golf was going to be worth watching again, that is, unless you are a member of the Woods family.

However, it was all for naught, as they say in merry old Scotland. The lead edged back to 4 shots and then, at the 12th hole, a typically dreary St. Andrew's hole that looked as if it had just been grazed by a flock of sheep and herd of cattle, Duval stumbled and Tiger charged, and the lead was back to 6.

Suddenly I grabbed my television remote control and scrambled to the Sunday political shows to see if Dubya had named a VP.

As they say in tennis, it was game, set and match. As they say in golf, it was just another day at the office for Tiger Woods.

Expecting David to beat Tiger was akin to another David beating Goliath. Those kind of upsets, my friends, don't happen very often. When I flipped back to see if anything had changed, Duval was hacking his way in the bunker to a quadruple bogey 8 at the Road Hole, reminding me of some of my own shots.

Why, oh, why did I think Tiger was going to lose to a chump such as Duval, who is ranked way, way down on the World Golf rankings at No. 2?

Of course, being ranked second behind Tiger is like being ranked second behind Einstein when it comes to smarts or second behind Ludwig van Beethoven when it comes to music. There was no rolling over Beethoven on this day, and there was no taming Tiger.

So at the age of 24, when most of us are worried about paying the power bill to avoid sleeping without air conditioning, or trying to find enough money to pay off college loans or ordering water with lunch instead of iced tea to save a few pennies, Woods has walked into the record books along with Sarazen, Hogan, Player and Nicklaus as the only golfers to have won all four major golf championships.

In translation, they are carving a new spot on the Mount Rushmore of golf. That is the goal of every man who ever sticks the wooden tee in the ground. Snead couldn't pull it off. Neither could Nelson or Palmer, Trevino, Watson or Floyd.

But Tiger has done the trick. And he made it look so easy.

Where he goes now in golf simply is a matter of whether he can stay interested long enough. Perhaps he could try to win the actual Grand Slam, capturing all four majors in the same calendar year. That used to be considered the longest shot in golf.

Well, considering Tiger will be the favorite in the next 100 majors, don't bet against it happening.

Tiger now has won three of the past four major championships. By comparison, Greg Norman, easily the most talented golfer between the end of Nicklaus' run in the mid-'80s until the dawning of Tiger three years ago, has won two majors for his career.

Tiger has done that since the last time it rained more than two consecutive days in Birmingham.

Is he the greatest ever? Oh, I still think he must negotiate Mr. Nicklaus' record for that. But if Tiger wants to be the greatest of all time, it is within his grasp.

Now, as it was in Nicklaus' heyday, the only competition Tiger will have is himself.

(Paul Finebaum writes for the Post-Herald in Birmingham, Ala.)


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