- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 22, 2000

The golf season is beginning to wind down which is good, because I'm running out of things to say about Tiger Woods. He won a tournament Sunday he probably shouldn't have, a tournament Bob May, who finished 66-66-66, seemed destined to win. But fate is no match for Tiger. He played his last 15 holes in 8-under to make off with his fifth major and third in a row. We haven't seen this kind of domination since the days of steel shafts and steely Ben Hogan.

Just wondering: If Woods wins the Masters next spring, should the feat be considered a Grand Slam like Bobby Jones' in 1930 even though he accomplished it in two calendar years? I'd be inclined to say yes. Call it a Backdoor Slam, if you prefer, but it's still a Slam in my book.

It's funny that he has struggled some at Augusta. When he shot 18-under to break the tournament record there in '97, the place seemed made for him. Jack Nicklaus said he wouldn't be surprised if Woods collected as many green jackets as him and Arnold Palmer combined (10). But a few course changes coupled with spotty play by Tiger have kept him out of contention the past three years. Something tells me his No. 1 goal in 2001 will be winning the Masters again.

He seems to have found a formula in the majors that works pretty well for him: shoot 5- or 6-under in the first round and demoralize the rest of the field. He opened with a 65 in the U.S. Open, a 67 in the British and a 66 in the PGA and led almost wire-to-wire in all three. One of the reasons he's such a good front-runner, of course, is that he rarely has a bad round, rarely "backs up," as they say. His most amazing statistic this year might be that he has had just three rounds over par a 73 in the second round of the AT&T;, a 75 in the first round of the Masters and a 73 in the first round of the Nelson. That's right, he hasn't posted an over-par score since May. How do you beat a guy like that?

The answer is: You don't. Not very often anyway. Tiger is just so much better than everybody else right now. Consider his cumulative score in the four major championships this year 54-under. That's 69 strokes better than Hal Sutton (who missed two cuts), 65 better than Justin Leonard, 47 better than Davis Love, Vijay Singh and David Duval (who didn't play in the PGA because of an injury), 44 better than Phil Mickelson and 35 better than Ernie Els. No wonder they're acting like a bunch of whipped dogs.

Everyone's talking about how Woods finally got challenged at Valhalla yeah, by one guy. Please note that by the end of Sunday, he and May were five shots clear of the field. Had May not had the week of his life, in other words, Tiger would have won easily again.

The next four finishers all were international players: Thomas Bjorn, Jose Maria Olazabal, Stuart Appleby and Greg Chalmers. This has been a recurring theme this summer. Outside of Woods, the Americans simply haven't been showing up in the majors. Vijay Singh and Ernie Els were 1-2 in the Masters; Els and Miguel Angel Jimenez tied for second in the U.S. Open (with Padraig Harrington and Lee Westwood fifth and Nick Faldo seventh); Bjorn and Els tied for second in the British. Mickelson's performance has been typical of the Yanks seventh in the Masters, 16th and 11th in the two Opens and ninth in the PGA, but never really in the hunt on Sunday.

And that's hard to understand when you see 50-year-old Tom Watson shoot 65-68 on the weekend to grab a share of ninth and equally aged Tom Kite put together four rounds of par or better. By the way, did you notice that Mickelson, Duval and Love all finished with the same score in the British Open 7-under, good for 11th place? They almost seem to have found a comfort zone well off the pace but still profitable enough to pay the bills.

This Bob May (not to be confused with Glen Day) bears watching. He matched Woods birdie for birdie on the back nine Sunday, something none of the American "superstars" has done. Perhaps the time he spent on the less luxurious European Tour thickened his hide and enabled him to stand up to Tiger down the stretch. If so, every player should be required to spend a year or two over there before he joins the Tiger Tour.

Had May held off Woods, Ken Venturi might have felt obliged to put him on our Presidents Cup team. (Paul Azinger and Loren Roberts were his captain's picks instead.) Me, I would have chosen May, anyway. He has won nearly $1,000,000 in the past two months and looks like he would be a killer in match play. He just ran into the wrong player at the wrong time, that's all Tiger Woods, in the final round of a tournament.

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