Slam! Woods takes his place in history

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland - Five hundred years of legend and lore hardly prepared golf's hallowed home for Tiger Woods.

On the same linksland that Old Tom Morris nurtured and Jack Nicklaus conquered, along came a 24-year-old with a keen eye for history.

Woods not only became the youngest player to win the career Grand Slam, he completed it faster than any of the four greats who did it before him.

The final piece came Sunday, when Woods held the silver claret jug under the cool, gray skies of St. Andrews after another record-breaking performance to win the British Open.

''It's the ultimate,'' Woods said. ''This is the home of golf. This is where you always want to win. To have a chance to complete the slam at St. Andrews is pretty special. I was able to bring it home.''

He brought it home in style, strolling over the stone Swilken Bridge on the 18th fairway and right into history.

Challenged briefly by David Duval, Woods pulled away for an eight-stroke victory. It wasn't quite as overwhelming as his 15-stroke victory in the U.S. Open last month, but it was the largest in 87 years of golf's oldest championship.

Woods doesn't only win, he wins by record margins.

Perhaps Tom Watson, the only man to win a British Open at five courses but never at St. Andrews, summed it up best.

''He is something supernatural,'' Watson said. ''He has raised the bar to a level that only he can jump.''

Hundreds of daring fans tried to leap over the burn on the 18th fairway to watch Woods finish off his latest masterpiece. He didn't disappoint them, making a par on the final hole for a 69 that set another benchmark for years to come.

He finished at 19-under 269, the lowest score in relation to par ever at a major championship and the best score ever at St. Andrews.

Asked if he as good as he can get, Woods said: ''No, no, no no. Definitely not.''

He became the first player to win all four majors since Jack Nicklaus' victory in the 1966 British Open at age 26.

Having won three of the last four majors, Woods seems to be racing toward the record that matters the most - the 18 majors Nicklaus won in a career that remains the standard.

For now.

''He is the chosen one. He's the best player who has played the game right now,'' said Mark Calcavecchia, who stuck around St. Andrews to watch history in the making. ''If Jack was in his prime today, I don't think he could keep up with Tiger.''

Comparing eras is never easy, but Woods' performance in the majors stands alone.

Woods won the British Open by eight strokes over Ernie Els and Thomas Bjorn, the largest margin of victory in the British Open since 1913, when J.H. Taylor won by eight strokes over Ted Ray.

Woods became only the third British Open champion to win with four rounds in the 60s, and he beat by one stroke the record Nick Faldo set at St. Andrews in 1990.

''The guy is simply in a different league,'' Faldo said.

Woods also became the first player since Watson in 1982 to win the U.S. and British Opens in the same year, and the first since Nicklaus in 1972 to own three major championships at the same time.

Woods now goes to the PGA Championship with a chance to join Ben Hogan as the only players to win three majors in one year.

And what about after that?

''He's always had his own goals,'' father Earl Woods said. ''I'd say the next one is winning all four of them in one year - soon.''

Els also set a record - the first player to finish second in three straight majors. He now has been runner-up to Woods six times, more than any other player.

Els shot a 69, while Bjorn closed with a 71 to finish at 277.

But the real challenge came from Duval, No. 2 in the world ranking behind Woods. It was the first time they were paired together in the final group of a final round - in a major championship, no less.

Duval went out in 32 and was only three strokes back until Woods, perhaps sensing history slipping away, poured it on with birdies on three of the next four holes.

Meanwhile, Duval crumbled. He was playing for second until hitting into the notorious Road Hole bunker on No. 17 and taking four shots to get out. He finished with a 75.

''As good as everything turned on the front nine was as bad as everything turned on the back,'' Duval said.

''He simply didn't make mistakes, and he capitalized on the holes you expect to capitalize on. It was a spectacular performance, to say the least.''

The other players to win the Grand Slam were Gene Sarazen in 1935, Hogan in 1953, Gary Player in 1965 and Nicklaus in '66 at Muirfield. Nicklaus went on to win the Grand Slam two more times.

''They've been the elite players to ever play the game,'' Woods said. ''And to be in the same breath as those guys, it makes it very special.''

Not only is Woods the youngest player to win all four majors, he did it in only his 93rd sanctioned tournament, compared with 125 for Nicklaus.

Woods won $759,150 from the record purse at the British Open. It was his sixth victory this year, 21st on the PGA Tour and 25 worldwide.

With the claret jug on a wooden table next to the first tee, shining in the bright sunlight over Scotland, Woods set out for what figured to be another breeze along the coast of the North Sea.

Unlike the U.S. Open, a challenge awaited.

Duval made the Old Course look like PGA West in the California desert, where he shot the only final-round 59 in history. After a nice lag putt from 70 feet on the first, Duval hit it stiff to 2 and 5 feet on the next two holes for birdies.

Woods, in his trademark Chianti-colored sweater and black slacks, looked uncomfortable from the start, shifting his legs over his first two birdie putts and missing both from inside 10 feet. When he finally made one on No. 4 from 18 feet, he showed more emotion than he had all week by raising the putter with his left hand and punching the air with his right.

If there was a turning point, it came on the 10th hole.

Duval got a huge break when his drive hit on the top of a pot bunker and carried along the baked turf to about pin high, where a simple chip left him 12 feet for birdie. The putt was on line for the cup but stopped inches short.

He grimaced, scolded himself under his breath and sulked off the green, standing to the side as Woods buried a 10-foot birdie to build the lead back to four strokes.

Despite a sore back, Duval showed plenty of fight.

He also knew when it was time to concede. A sloppy bogey by Duval and a routine birdie by Woods on the 12th hole restored the lead to six strokes, and Woods cruised to victory.

That could make for a long flight home. Duval and Woods were scheduled to be on the same charter plane to Florida - along with the claret jug.

Such was the case two years ago when Woods finished one stroke out of a playoff at Royal Birkdale, won by his good friend Mark O'Meara.

''I brought the claret jug back on the plane with Tiger,'' O'Meara said. ''He held it and knew that he wanted it someday.''

He has it now, holding on with such a firm grip that anyone is going to have a hard time wresting it away. Or any other major, for that matter.

''I played the regular tour events. Tiger plays his own events,'' Els said. ''I'm probably living in an era where we're going to see the next great player.''

Then he paused, realizing what had unfolded over the past four days.

''We're already seeing that.''


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