- The Washington Times - Monday, June 17, 2002

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. Tiger Woods has now reached the turn on his course toward sports immortality.
The 26-year-old Woods completed the second leg of golf's elusive Grand Slam yesterday, besting Phil Mickelson by three strokes in the 102nd U.S. Open at Bethpage State Park.
"It certainly wasn't easy, but I hung in there and was fortunate enough to come out on top," said Woods, who survived a final-round 72 on the 7,214-yard, par-70 Black Course and exited Long Island as the only player in the field with an under-par total (3-under, 277). "To win your nation's title at a public facility on top of that in front of these fans is awesome. To win the first two [majors] is awfully tough. And that makes this very special."
Woods has won all four of golf's professional majors consecutively, winning the 2000 U.S. Open through the 2001 Masters. But nobody has ever collected the quartet in the same season. Six-time major champion Nick Faldo once called accomplishing that feat "fractionally more difficult than climbing Everest barefoot without oxygen."
But the game's take on the impossibility of completing the Grand Slam has changed drastically since Woods' arrival to the pro ranks in late 1996. Since then, Woods has redefined golf greatness, winning eight total majors and seven of the last 11. Given that unparalled run and his previous Tiger Slam, few players doubt Woods' ability to achieve what was once almost unthinkable.
"You can't put anything past him," said Faldo, who finished tied for fifth at Bethpage. "He's just got such incredible inner strength. It's hard to imagine that a guy would be favored to complete the Slam, but you'd have to fancy his chances now, wouldn't you?"
The next stop will be the British Open on July 18-21 at Muirfield in Gullane, Scotland. Unlike Augusta National or Bethpage Black, Muirfield prizes accuracy over length. Consider that Faldo, never a big hitter even in his prime, has claimed the claret jug in each of the last two Opens played at Muirfield, in 1987 and '92.
Jack Nicklaus was the last player to arrive at the British Open with victories in the season's first two majors, when he crossed the Atlantic in 1972 stalking a Slam. Coincidentally, that British Open also took place at Muirfield, where Lee Trevino clipped Nicklaus by one stroke to end the Golden Bear's bid.
Another potential Grand Slam was quashed by logistics in 1953. Ben Hogan won the season's first three majors that year, but a scheduling snafu left players less than a week between the conclusion of the British and the start of the PGA Championship. Faced with general fatigue and the rigors of travel, Hogan didn't even enter the PGA.
The primary difficulty for Woods is likely to be the typhoon of media attention certain to surround him during the next several weeks. Not since Bobby Jones won the latter-day Grand Slam in 1930 U.S. and British opens and U.S. and British amateurs and returned to a ticker-tape parade, has the sports world been so fixated on the quest of a golfer.
Attempting to rank a Grand Slam in the pantheon of sports achievements is a subjective business. It would certainly cement his place as the greatest golfer of all time. And in the realm of individual sports seasons, perhaps only Rod Laver's two Grand Slam explosions (1962 and 1969) in tennis would belong on the same plane.
"I would like to win the Slam. I've done it before, and I hope I can do it again," Woods said. "But right now, I'm not thinking about that. Hey, I've got to celebrate this one first."


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