- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 25, 2000

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland Though Tiger's two-major reign of terror is a boon for the doom-and-gloom crowd, the Bear knows best.

When Woods completed his eight-stroke coast to the claret jug on Sunday, even usually optimistic players were forecasting a decade of domination.

Ernie Els, who finished second to Woods at both the U.S. and British Opens, admitted he didn't even want to get out of bed for the final round at St. Andrews. That's what happens when you fall 15 strokes short at Pebble Beach, scrape yourself up, bring your A-game to the British Open and still get pasted by the prodigy.

Mark Calcavecchia, the 1989 British Open champion, dubbed Woods "the chosen one." Six-time major winner Nick Faldo suggested that Tiger should play blindfolded to level the playing field. And Europe's longtime stallion, Colin Montgomerie, bemoaned: "If Tiger's in form, we're all just shooting for silver."

Well, Jack Nicklaus has seen it all before, and he assures the world that at least some semblance of parity is on golf's horizon.

"I think what's happening I kind of liken it to what happened when Arnold [Palmer] came along," said Nicklaus during Woods' walkover win at St. Andrews. "Arnold came along after [Sam] Snead, [Ben] Hogan and [Byron] Nelson were all past their prime a little bit. And there was like a five-, six- or seven-year gap in there where not much happened… . Then Arnold came along and there wasn't anybody to stop him. For the first three or four years Arnold played there wasn't any competition. Then Gary [Player] came along a little bit started contending. And I came along.

"Right now, he's the dominant player. Everybody has thrown up the white flag and surrendered. But there's a whole bunch of golfers out there who are not ready to surrender who are going to learn how to play this game."

Some would say Nicklaus is just indulging in a little wishful thinking. After all, it is his record of 18 majors that Woods is chasing. And it is his set of standards that Woods seems to shatter each time he takes the tee. But Nicklaus is the first to praise the skills of golf's new leviathan. And he admits Woods' game is more well-rounded at the same stage in their careers.

"I may sound silly to say this, but I'm kind of rooting for somebody else to come along and challenge or break the record. If it is Tiger, that's fine," said Nicklaus. "I think it would be good for the game of golf. The game of golf needs a shot in the arm constantly.

"Is he better than I was? Certainly, he's better at 24 than I was… . He definitely has a better short game than I had. But I think that we grew up a lot differently. I was a big kid when I grew up and he was not a big kid. A lot of kids that are slight in stature have a very good short game because they need a very good short game. He grew up as a small kid with a great short game, and now he has a big game and he's not going to forget the short game. I never had that opportunity. I am the same size now as I was when I was 13 years old."

Another opportunity that Nicklaus never had was the chance to pound on less-decorated players. Woods is competing against only three other players in their prime with more than one major victory Els, Vijay Singh and Lee Janzen. And all three have but two major tallies on their resumes.

"I was playing Arnold, who has won seven or eight majors, and Gary, who has won eight or nine majors, and [Lee] Trevino, who has won six majors, and [Tom] Watson, who has won eight or nine majors," said Nicklaus. "These guys had all learned to win major championships. I always knew somebody who knew how to win, like I knew how to win, was competing against me. Now right now, Tiger doesn't have that. But he will. There will be some guys who come along, maybe some kid watching television, like Nick Faldo did years ago, watched me on television and took up the game. That's going to happen somewhere along the line. He's certainly not going to get off the next 15 years with a free run. There's too many good players coming along."

And though no player has ever managed the feat in such convincing fashion, it's not as if Woods is the first player in history to win back-to-back majors. Watson won both Opens in 1982. And starting with the 1971 PGA Championship and concluding at the 1972 U.S. Open, Jack Nicklaus won three consecutive major championships. Woods will be attempting to do the same thing next month at the PGA Championship at Valhalla in Louisville, Ky.

He'll undoubtedly be a heavy favorite at the PGA. And he'll take his first legitimate run at the game's ultimate sacred cow the season Grand Slam next year. Woods is reticent to reveal his goals, but winning all four majors in the same season would cement his status as the greatest of all time.

"It is possible," said Nicklaus, referring to the elusive Slam. "For a young man like Tiger, he's going to have another 10 or 15 years of taking a run at it. I never got there. Arnold had a couple of pretty good runs at it. Then again, nobody ever got it. But it is always possible."

But if Nicklaus is correct, Woods' best chance at the Slam will likely be in the next three or four years, while he's got his current crowd of competitors psychologically whipped. Because ironically, Woods' impact on the sport will likely bring a whole new caliber of players to golf young guys with more talent and less fear.

"He has done some great things, you know," said Nicklaus. "He's the new kid on the block. And he's a great player who is only going to get better, but he will have competition, too… . Tiger hasn't had that yet, but he will."

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