- The Washington Times - Monday, June 17, 2002

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. We're running out of analogies to describe the wonder that is Tiger Woods. Comparing him to Babe Ruth seemed to work for a while, but now that Tiger has notched his second U.S. Open and eighth major title at the age of 26, you have to wonder if he hasn't begun to out-Bambino the Bambino.
Laugh if you like, but methinks Tiger is moving into the Charles Lindbergh class. When he goes over to Muirfield next month to play in the British Open, his landing for sheer sensation figures to rival Lindy's. Think about it: Were Lindbergh's odds of crossing the Atlantic really any longer than Woods' odds of completing the Grand Slam in a single year?
After he vanquished the field at Bethpage Black, though, anything seems possible for Tiger. And let's not forget, he's already completed a slam of sorts capturing the Open, British and PGA in '00 and then the Masters last year. How much tougher can a real Slam be?
"I'd like to win the Slam," he said as darkness closed in. "I've done it before, and I'd like to do it again."
Yesterday, Tiger had to contend with two of the most talented players extant, Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson. And in case they needed any encouragement, he proceeded to bogey the first two holes, three-putting both. His four-stroke lead was suddenly halved, and the prospect of a quick knockout a Woods specialty was gone. Was he finally about to let a Big One get away?
Hardly. He barely had a misstep the rest of the way, hitting fairways and greens with robotic consistency. Even a weather delay didn't discombobulate him. He came out after the 45-minute break and knocked his first drive right down the middle. In the end a 2-over 72 and a 3-under final score was plenty good enough. Mickelson, who was still within two strokes with five holes to play, finished three back with a closing 70, and Garcia failed to make a single birdie and wound up six behind with a 74.
This is what passes for drama in Tiger Woods' world. He starts the final round of the U.S. Open with a four-shot lead, and he ends it with a three-shot lead. (Just as, the day before, he had started the third round with a three-shot lead and, despite some serious scrambling, ended it even farther ahead.)
In truth, he probably won the Open on Friday, when he shot a 68 in the rain while Sergio and some of the others were letting the soggy conditions seep into their psyches. The last two days, Tiger simply didn't do anything to un-win it which is one of the things that make him nigh invincible. He almost never beats himself. He forces you to do the deed. And few of his contemporaries are up to the task, especially in a major championship.
One of the most amazing stats, for my money, is that Tiger's worst round in the Open as a pro is a 74. Heck, a lot of days, 74 is a pretty good score in this tournament. And get this: In his last 16 Open rounds, he's only shot worse than 72 once. Once! This is how you win majors by not shooting yourself out of them.
Even Jack Nicklaus had his horrid days in the Open. He missed the cut at Brookline in '63, had a 77 at Congressional in '64, a 78 at Bellerive in '65, an 81 at Hazeltine in '70. But Woods never has rounds like that. (Which is why he's ahead of Jack in the major department at this stage.)
If he didn't blink after beginning yesterday with two bogeys, he may never blink. But then, Tiger doesn't deal with adversity the way we mortals do. "The way the course was set up today, with the wind and the really fast greens, you're going to make some mistakes," he explained calmly. "I just told myself I got mine out of the way early. Besides, the mistakes I made were on the greens. It wasn't bad ball-striking."
Garcia described the experience as "frustrating" frustrating that he didn't take advantage of the opportunity Tiger gave him, and frustrating, no doubt, too, that he had unraveled once again in the final round of the Open. A year ago at Southern Hills he blew to a 77 on Sunday and now this.
"I'll just put myself back in there, and hopefully the next time I'll do better," he said. "I'll just keep looking forward. It's just a matter of time."
Sergio can look forward all he wants. So can Mickelson. But this is what they'll see: Woods, standing in their way. Tiger ain't going anywhere. He's going to be around for as long as they're around. Now that's frustrating.
"I'm only 26," Tiger reminded everybody. "I've got a long way to go. I'm going to try to get better, try to win more major championships. Winning major championships is what we all dream about as kids. I'm just living a dream."
A dream for him, a recurring nightmare for his fellow golfers.

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