- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 30, 2000

The "Battle at Bighorn" was just a one-night stand nothing serious.

Most of those who tuned in to ABC's Monday night match play duel between golf Goliath Tiger Woods and Spain's Sergio Garcia expected the usual Woodsian rout. And many of us derived a portion of pleasure when the underdog Garcia carded eight birdies to pip an uninspired Woods 1-up in the flood-lit desert.

Unfortunately, Woods didn't receive this long-awaited comeuppance on one of golf's grand stages. Unfortunately, Monday's match was an exhibition, pure and simple. But if Woods loses a game of horse these days, it's somewhat newsworthy, particularly when it earns better TV ratings than any NFL preseason game. What Garcia did was stick a tiny prime-time pin in Woods' balloon of invincibility.

Maybe, we all needed to be reminded that Woods is indeed human. After all, he has given us precious little proof of that in winning the last three majors of the season by 24 strokes.

Bob May gave the world a glimpse of Tiger's imperfection by pushing the 24-year-old prodigy to a playoff at the PGA Championship. And to some extent, Garcia finished what May nearly completed in far more meaningful circumstances earlier this month at Valhalla he humanized the game's awesome automaton. But other than earning himself a little confidence (and some much needed cash) in a lean year, that's all Garcia accomplished at Bighorn.

Of course, anybody who saw Garcia's gamboling reaction to his victory over Woods might have thought the Spaniard had just claimed the claret jug or a green jacket. Sorry, Sergio, it takes four days of stroke-play splendor to win one of those. Maybe you're the man for made-for-TV triumphs, but until somebody trumps Tiger's Grand Slam streak, Woods is the master of the majors.

Let's put the "Battle at Bighorn" in its proper place. It was an unofficial, under-the-lights, one-night exhibition with no real significance. It was played on an outrageously wide-open layout that wouldn't have passed muster as a Buy.com Tour setup. It was played in front of camera-carrying, shutter-happy galleries searching for souvenirs, not a serious showdown. And it was played by a road-weary, feverish Woods, who had flown into Palm Desert, Calif., earlier that day after winning back-to-back events actually sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

To his credit, Woods didn't whine about his fatigue after the match, though his constant phlegm-fishing, throat-clearing routine left little doubt that he was not operating at 100 percent.

He simply slumped around behind the exuberant Sergio, who spent the night dancing about like Michael Flatley, and still managed to post the equivalent of a 67 on the par-72 course.

Sure, he was one stroke, and one hole, short of matching Garcia's performance. But how could anyone claim that losing an exhibition match 1-down could tarnish the most dominating season the game has ever seen?

In the final analysis, much more was at stake for Garcia than for Woods Monday night. To a struggling player like Garcia, Bighorn's $1.1 million winner's take was twice as much as he has made on the PGA Tour this season. To Woods, who will make roughly $45 million this year, major purses mean far less than major achievements. And winning ABC's bogus battle hardly qualifies as a major accomplishment.

This doesn't mean Garcia doesn't have the skills to challenge Woods in major environs. He has already proved he can do that, staging a back-nine charge at Woods as a 19-year-old rookie at last year's PGA Championship.

Here's to hoping future Garcia vs. Woods matchups are as memorable as Medinah, not as meaningless as the "Battle of Bighorn."

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