- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 16, 2000

LOUISVILLE, Ky. Tiger now has the Hawk in the crosshairs.
At each major championship, it seems Tiger Woods sets his sights on another of golf's grandest standards. At this week's 82nd PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club, Woods will attempt to match Ben Hogan's 1953 major championship triple.
"That is just a byproduct of winning the tournament," the 24-year-old Woods said yesterday. "I am not here trying to duplicate what Hogan did in '53… . That would be like going to the British Open and worrying about completing the Grand Slam."
Woods might not allow himself to become distracted by such pursuits, but don't think he doesn't desperately want to equal Hogan, who won the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open in 1953 to become the first and only player to win three modern majors in the same season. Nothing turns on Tiger like the chance to make history with the whole world watching. And perhaps no player in history provides a more fitting foil for Woods than Hogan.
Like Hogan in his day, Woods is a relative loner with an insatiable hunger for honing his swing and an unmatched ability to conquer through concentration.
"Mentally and emotionally, [Hogan] really liked to just kind of be on his own and block everything out, and that is what I try to do," said Woods, who used that phenomenal focus this summer to rout the fields at the U.S. and British Opens.
And in terms of ball-striking expectations, perhaps only Hogan held himself to a higher standard than Woods. Bantam Ben once lamented he hit only one, or at most two, perfect shots a round. At St. Andrews last month, Woods routinely rattled off those kind of statements. After an opening-round 67 in which he hit 17 greens and managed to avoid a bunker, a three-putt or a bogey, Woods talked primarily about his slew of loose shots.
"I hit a poor shot on No. 1 into the green, a poor shot on No. 2 into the green, a poor shot on No. 3 into the green, a poor shot on No. 4 into the green, a poor shot on No. 5, a bad tee shot on No. 6 and a bad second shot on No. 6. You want me to go on?" Woods asked. "It was all day."
Two days later, Woods talked about "pulling" an approach shot that was intended to be a 1-yard draw three yards left on the 17th at St. Andrews. Even legends scoffed at that comment.
"Please, nobody has ever been that precise," said Sam Snead, perhaps the sweetest swinger the game has ever known. "Sometimes Tiger talks just as crazy as Hogan."
But unlike Hogan, Woods is extremely image conscious. He knows he is the most marketable athlete on the planet, and the last thing he wants is for the public to perceive him as an impersonal automaton who whines about 2-yard misses.
"I understand that there are a lot of people out who are here to see me, and I try to have fun and joke around with the gallery a little bit here and there and try and sign autographs," said Woods, who obviously fears being linked too closely with Hogan, the brooding perfectionist. "I really don't believe there is such a thing as perfection, because we are all human. We are all technically imperfect, so how can we achieve perfection? I have always been a big believer in professional excellence, and that is what I try and achieve. I know I can never hit perfect shots every time, and I just want to be the best I can be. That, to me, is professional excellence."
And unlike Hogan, Woods has learned how to suffer fools gracefully. When one reporter who apparently slept through the summer asked Woods to "assess" the state of his game, the player who won the last two major championships by a total of 23 strokes simply smiled and quipped:
"I'm playing all right. I broke 80 four straight days last week [at the Buick Open], which was good for me."
Greg Norman, who understands the searing spotlight that is superstardom, lauded Woods yesterday for his ever improving ability to handle scrutiny.
"I have seen him mature," Norman said. "I have seen his demeanor and his approach toward everybody change for the better… . He had to learn very quickly because nobody was going to give him any slack. He'd only have to make one wrong move and he'd be crucified, which is sad really because we are not perfect and we all make mistakes… . He has learned to choose his words very carefully."
Yesterday, Woods did just that, playing the consummate diplomat when he was asked about his first- and second-round pairing with Jack Nicklaus, the major maven he has dedicated himself to dethroning.
"It was a pleasant surprise," Woods said about the pairing, which also includes Masters champ Vijay Singh and traditionally groups the winners of the year's three previous majors. Woods' two victories this year provided an opening for Nicklaus.
"Jack is obviously the greatest champion of all time, and it was neat to be playing with him in possibly his last PGA Championship. With that prospect in mind, it is going to be quite an honor and a lot of fun to play with him."
Hogan was never so gracious. And just a month ago, Woods wasn't either. When Nicklaus walked off the 18th green in his final British Open appearance and passed before Woods on the putting green at St. Andrews, Woods was the only player on hand who didn't applaud the grand master.
But that was a month ago. And just as Woods' resume of records grows with each passing major, so does his understanding of what it means to be a complete champion off the course. Hogan's focus, Nicklaus' talent and Palmer's gracious personality now there's a major trifecta.

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