- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 19, 2000

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland Perhaps the Royal & Ancient Golf Club should just cancel this week's 129th British Open and simply give the claret jug to Tiger Woods.

Everybody in the Auld Grey Toon, pundits and players alike, seems convinced the tournament is Tiger's for the taking. Former R&A; secretary Sir Michael Bonallack was the first to jump on the Woods' wagon now careening out of control when he said last month, "If Tiger doesn't win at St. Andrews, there should be a steward's inquiry."

Jack Nicklaus, playing his last British Open this week, hopped aboard yesterday.

"For anybody not to pick [Tiger], they'd have to be out of their mind," said the 60-year-old Nicklaus, who collected two of his three jugs courtesy of the Old Course (1970 and '78).

Usually self-absorbed Brit Nick Faldo, who set the Open scoring record in 1990 at St. Andrews (270), picked Woods on Monday before suggesting a possible handicapping system.

"Tiger will be playing blindfolded by the year 2005 at our request, the Tour's request. We will buy him a blindfold," the 43-year-old Faldo said. "I am lucky. I have been there, done my bit, got my majors on the wall. But it must be very daunting for some of these guys now who have to chase Tiger and hope when he slips up they can sneak in and get one."

One of those young guys, England's Lee Westwood, claimed yesterday he was unintimidated by the aura of invincibility that has surrounded Woods since his 15-stroke walkover in last month's U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. But the 27-year-old Westwood then seemed to contradict himself with his comments.

"[Tiger] is so much better than everybody else when every aspect of his game is on that it is possible for him to win tournaments by 15 shots," Westwood said. "It is a big check for second, so that would be quite nice."

Does anybody in the land of haggis and heather think Woods won't win?

Apparently not. As of yesterday, Britain's famous betting houses listed Woods at between 9-4 and 15-8 to win, making him the most prohibitive favorite in major championship history.

And unfortunately for the rest of the 156-man field, the 24-year-old Woods doesn't seem the least bit overwhelmed by the magnitude of his bid to become just the fifth player in history and the youngest to complete the career Grand Slam.

"As I said going into the U.S. Open, if there is any two tournaments you want to win and have them on specific golf courses you're going to want to win the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and the British Open at St. Andrews," Woods said yesterday. "It's just ironic that it happened to be in the same year and ironic that I get the chance to complete the Slam on the most historic golf course ever designed.

"But then again, if my career goes as long as I hope it will go, I think I might have a few more opportunities to complete the Slam … When it is time to play on Thursday, I couldn't care less about the Slam. Once it is time to play then I need to stay in the present, focus on the shot at hand and get the job done."

Despite the genuflection of his fellow competitors, Woods says he doesn't think there is any carryover from the U.S. Open in terms of momentum, pointing to the long month since his rout at Pebble and his pedestrian performance in the Western Open two weeks ago.

Still, Woods readily admits that his confidence level is at an all-time high, in part because his unparalleled driving ability perfectly suits St. Andrews.

"People around the world basically say that St. Andrews is an easy course all you do is aim left and hit it. That's not the case," Woods said. "It is weird to have the fairways faster than the greens… . With the fairways being as fast as they are you need to position your ball off the tee because the ball will run. And if you favor the left side too much, there are pot bunkers that you can run right into and have to pitch out. You have to be very careful where you drive your golf ball. You have to place it correctly. The fairways are so fast you can't get away with any misses."

According to Nicklaus, the fairways are faster and the bunkers more severe than any Grand Slam venue in history. But thanks to his length, Woods is one of only a handful of players who can take many of the treacherous bunkers completely out of play.

"He'll have a huge advantage on Nos. 6 and 15 because he can clear the trouble on both holes no matter which way the wind is blowing," Nicklaus said. "And as hard as it is, I'd say he can hit some 400-yard drives downwind and probably reach like four other par-4s per round [off the tee.]

The wind has not been a factor thus far this week, so Woods has not managed a 400-yard drive. Not yet.

Said Woods: "If the wind does blow you can see guys hitting the ball over 400 no problem. That won't be hard to do, not for us."

What Woods meant to say was not for him. For the rest of the field, those playing in the mere mortal flite at St. Andrews, 400-yard drives and visions of victory seem more like the stuff of reverie than reality.

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