- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 12, 2002

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. Tiger Woods doesn't seem to get along with par-70 golf courses.
Take a look at his otherwise unparalleled resume, and you simply can't avoid that major void. According to Woods, his 0-for-8 performance in major championships played on par-70 tracks is a coincidence. But the rest of the field assembled for this week's 102nd U.S. Open at Bethpage State Park is hoping it's a curse.
"You can't win every major. You can't play well every week," Woods said recently, deflecting the subject good-naturedly.
Yesterday, after his third trip around the 7,214-yard, par-70 Black Course, Woods bristled a bit when the same issue came up during his pretournament news conference.
"Actually, I think it gives me more of an advantage," Woods said, apparently embracing the contrarian within. "When you get par-4s over 480 yards like they are here this week, you are going to have to bring the ball in high. If I'm driving the ball in play, I think I will be able to have a better chance of stopping the ball [than most of the field]."
Though that would certainly stand to reason, Tiger's history on par-70 courses can't be the source of his confidence. The facts are simply too telling to deny. In majors played on courses with a par of 71 or higher, Woods has won seven times in 13 starts and posted a staggering scoring average of 69.67. In his eight starts at par-70 major venues, he's walked away winless with a scoring average of 70.78.
You would expect Woods' average in relation to par to be worse on par-70 courses. But you certainly wouldn't expect his overall scoring average to go up it simply defies logic.
"I'd call it a statistical anomaly," Butch Harmon, Tiger's swing instructor, said yesterday. "I can't explain it, but I know it doesn't matter. Par on a course has nothing to do with it. Tiger can win anywhere."
Nobody would question Harmon's last remark. If they held a pitch-and-putt tournament on the moon next week, Tiger would be the prohibitive favorite. But the fact remains that if you subtract a couple of par-5s from the scorecard, golf's demigod has usually looked remarkably human.
"Sure, I think it makes a difference," Craig Parry said. "Think of it this way: On those 490-yard par-4s we can all get home in two. On a 560-yard par-5, he's one of the very few who can do it. We've got 75-yard wedges, and he's either putting or he's got a pitch and a putt. Tell me that doesn't make a difference. That doesn't mean he isn't going to win this week. It just means he might have to work a little harder to do it."
Woods has been doing just that since his final round at the Memorial. He and Harmon have spent the better part of the last two weeks sculpting his game to match Bethpage's primary requirements long teeshots (Woods will hit an abundance of 3-woods) and soft, high approaches.
"I feel pretty comfortable about my game and about my game plan for the golf course," Woods said. "I'm rested, and I do feel really good about this week."
Perhaps the primary reason for that confidence is Tiger's tendency to use skepticism as a motivational tool. With virtually every person on the property buzzing about his par-70 0-fer, Woods certainly has plenty of inspirational fodder this week. And as if that isn't enough of a prod for the world's No. 1 player, at least one of his fellow competitors thinks Woods has another career imperfection stuck in his craw.
"Deep down, I think it chaps him that people call what he did a couple of years ago the Tiger Slam," District native Olin Browne said recently. "I'm sure he wants to win all four majors in the same year so he won't have to hear that anymore. You can tell by the way he's tailored his schedule this year that everything is based on the majors. He's always done that, but this year it's even more pronounced. I think it's pretty clear he's after the Grand Slam. Can he do it? [Darn] right he can. Nothing he does surprises me. He's that much better than the rest of us."
In typical fashion, Woods also dodged the only question about his Grand Slam intentions yesterday.
"For my own expectation level, I come to every tournament to try and win, and that's what I'm going to try and do again this week," Woods said. "I think any player will say that this is probably the most difficult championship to win because of the narrow fairways, high rough, baked-out greens and hidden pins. It takes a lot of energy out of you to play this championship and play it well and contend. By the end of the week you're pretty fried."
Woods is likely to be even more drained than normal after this week given the Black Course's formidable reviews. After several months of chatter about its simplicity, the A.W. Tillinghast creation has awed the players this week. Almost to a man, the field has agreed that the Black Course isn't just the longest course in Open history, it's also among the toughest.
If the purists at the USGA have a guiding principal, it's that the most demanding layouts, irrespective of par, always favor the premier players. Golf has only one premier player, and his game should be perfect for Bethpage, in spite of his par-70 past.
"It's a very good golf course for him," Harmon said. "He likes it. It suits his eye well. And it's a long-hitter's course, there's no doubt about that. I am very confident. Let's put it this way, if you beat Tiger Woods this week, you're in for a very good finish."


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