- The Washington Times - Monday, June 17, 2002

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. Tiger Woods is halfway to history.
Golf's 26-year-old goliath added the U.S. Open title to his green jacket yesterday, keeping his Grand Slam hopes alive by staving off Phil Mickelson by three strokes on the Black Course at Bethpage State Park.
"That was a hard-fought victory," said Woods, who posted his worst score of the week (72) on the 7,214-yard, par-70 layout but still managed the only sub-par total in the field (3 under). "This golf course was so difficult that you couldn't just scrape it around and stay in contention. You had to have all parts of your game working here, and I did that. Even though I missed a few putts today, I really made very few errors out there."
Just as he did Saturday, Woods began his final round in inauspicious fashion, three-putting for bogeys on the first two holes to drop to 3 under for the championship and allow Mickelson and Sergio Garcia to close within two strokes of his lead. But Garcia once again struggled with his putting stroke, missing four putts inside of 10 feet on the front nine to plummet out of contention en route to a 74.
"When you miss a couple of good chances for birdie, the hole seems to get smaller, and it's very difficult to keep your focus," said Garcia, the 22-year-old Spaniard still in search of his first major victory. "If I had made those short putts all week, I might have given him a real go, but you can't play golf with ifs. Tiger deserves it. He's the best, and he played well enough to win."
Unlike Garcia, Mickelson was a factor well into the tournament's back nine. The 32-year-old lefty celebrated his birthday by recording yet another near miss at a major. Mickelson emerged from a 50-minute storm delay late in the afternoon with one final push at Woods. Playing one group ahead of Woods, he two-putted the par-5 13th for birdie to reach 2 under for the day and the tournament, just three strokes behind Woods.
But just as he did all week, Woods responded to the charge with a decisive salvo, scalding a 255-yard, cut 2-iron second shot to the 13th green and nearly holing a 30-footer for eagle. The tap-in birdie pushed Woods back to 5 under, restoring the four-stroke cushion he enjoyed at the start of the day. Mickelson then staggered home with a pair of sloppy bogeys at Nos. 16 and 17, practically guaranteeing Woods his eighth major title.
"Tiger's certainly capable of winning a championship whether he's in the lead or not," said Mickelson, who started five back of Woods and closed with a solid 70 on a blustery day that yielded just three rounds in the red. "But it's very difficult to catch him from behind, particularly when you spot him five strokes to start the day. Overall, I thought it was a really good week and a great tournament."
Mickelson's mild reaction to yet another also-ran finish in a major perfectly characterizes the Open and the whole season thus far in terms of Woods' challengers. Much like at the Masters, none of Tiger's pursuers was able to apply steady pressure to the major maestro. In fact, Mickelson's swoon at the finish allowed Tiger to bogey both the 16th and 18th holes on short-range misses with impunity. Part of the field's failings can be traced to the brutal course conditions.
"This was the longest and the tightest course in U.S. Open history," said Woods, who has won seven of the last 11 majors. "The way it was set up, nobody was going to get through the day without a bogey. And then you throw the changing conditions, and it was a total brute.
"I mean, it was two different courses before and after the rain. Before the storm, it was really windy, and the superintendent told me the greens were running like 15 [on the stimpmeter]. After the storm, the greens were much slower, and it was dead calm. It's not easy to make that adjustment."
As usual, Woods managed to adapt better than the rest of the field. And with the quest for the Slam now moving to Muirfield and the British Open (July 18-21), nobody has shown the ability to stop his assault on golf's ultimate accomplishment.
"We aren't going to hand it to him, but, sure, he's going to be tough to stop," Scott Hoch said. "What can you say, he's probably already getting his gameplan ready for Muirfield."
Actually, Woods plans to take the next week completely off to recharge before his beginning preparations for his claret jug attack.
"It's going to be a while before I start working on my links game," Woods said. "I'm not thinking about anything but what a great week I had at Bethpage."

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