- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 20, 2000

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. While the rest of the professional golf world sits shell-shocked among the shattered remains of whatever pride it brought to Pebble Beach, Tiger Woods already is plotting another major massacre.

For the 24-year-old Woods, who added a record-smashing U.S. Open victory Sunday to his standard-setting victory at the 1997 Masters, there seem to be only two more monumental tasks left on the horizon: breaking Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 total major championship victories and completing the career Grand Slam.

The first chore will take years to accomplish, if indeed Woods can stay healthy, hungry and hot enough to manage it at all. But Woods could clear the latter hurdle next month, when he goes to St. Andrews in search of the British Open title that would give him the fourth leg of the slam.

"That's something that I would love to happen," Woods said. "And there's no better site to have it occur than at the home of golf. That's where it all started. If I could somehow be fortunate enough to play well and at that right time and get that claret jug, it would be a good feeling."

Woods has to be feeling good about his chances at the Old Course. He just embarrassed the rest of the game's supposed greats at the U.S. Open, winning by a major championship-record 15 strokes. He's in the midst of the most torrid stretch of play on tour in 50 years, winning 12 of his last 21 starts. And now he's headed to a site that perfectly suits his skills.

The Scots might have invented the game at St. Andrews, but St. Andrews might as well have been invented for Woods' game. British bookmakers have already installed him as a 2-1 favorite at the Old Course and not without reason. Of the eight courses in the current British Open rotation, none plays to Woods' strengths like St. Andrews.

"I'd say his chances are pretty decent there," three-time British Open champ Nick Faldo said facetiously. "If the wind doesn't howl, it's pretty much bombs away there."

A closer look at the five British Open champions at St. Andrews since 1970 proves Faldo's point. Nicklaus, by far the most prodigious hitter of his generation, won twice there (1970 and 1978). Spain's Seve Ballesteros, a wild but wonderfully long hitter, won the event's next visit to the Old Course in 1984. In 1995, John Daly overpowered the place to win the claret jug. In fact, Faldo is the only player to win at St. Andrews (1990) since 1970 who couldn't fairly be called the longest knocker in the field at the time and Faldo was the world's No. 1 player in 1990.

The Old Course is a wide open, let-it-fly layout with the widest, hardest fairways in major championship golf. At 6,566 yards and par 72, it's a short track by any standard. By Tiger standards, it's a total pitch-and-putt.

Barring a headwind, both par-5s are reachable in two with a driver and a short-iron for Woods, who led the Open in average driving distance (299.3 yards). Among the layout's 14 par-4s, three measure 318 yards or less, all reachable for Woods under calm circumstances. If the wind is howling, Woods might not reach those short holes, but another five holes under 360 yards suddenly become reachable if they're downwind.

And unlike fellow pounder Daly, who hasn't been able to putt over the last five years, Woods is wielding the game's hottest blade.

"Who knows? Tiger could do the same thing at St. Andrews," Nick Price said after Woods pasted the field at Pebble Beach. "That's always been a big-hitter's paradise… . We all felt for the longest time that someone was going to come along who could drive the ball 300 yards and putt like [Ben] Crenshaw. Well, this guy drives it better than anybody I've ever seen and putts better than Crenshaw. When you put it all together, that's tough to beat."

And, of course, Woods will bring the mental edge to St. Andrews he enjoys every time he tees it up.

"Hey, the guy is unbelievable, man," Ernie Els said after finishing 15 behind Woods with Miguel Angel Jimenez at the Open. "He's so focused every time. That hunger for winning a major championship is like 110 percent. It's there every week. To be honest, I don't feel like that every week when I'm playing. He's just different."

Is he different and determined enough to become the youngest player in history to complete the Grand Slam? Among the four players who have managed the achievement (Nicklaus, Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan and Gary Player), Nicklaus was the youngest to finish off the foursome accomplishing the feat at 26 in the 1966 British Open at Muirfield. Woods is two years younger, and he's been smashing Nicklaus' standards for some time now (see U.S. Amateur, Masters, U.S. Open). And like Nicklaus in his prime, Woods probably will eliminate two-thirds of the field from claret jug contention before he hits a shot at St. Andrews.

"As far as intimidating the other players, what you do is try to get up there and put yourself in contention," Woods said after the Open. "If they fall by the wayside just because you're there, then so be it… . I have to put myself in a position to win, and hopefully, I can get that jug."

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