ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Golf’s demigod has reached double digits in his pursuit of Grand Slam immortality.
Tiger Woods claimed his 10th major championship yesterday at the 134th British Open, pulling away from a field of floundering challengers on the Old Course en route to a five-stroke victory over Scotland’s favorite son, Colin Montgomerie.
“This is as special as it gets,” said Woods after a closing 70 carried him to 14 under and earned him a second Open victory at golf’s mecca. “This is something you dream about. All players that want to win the Open championship automatically go right to St. Andrews. And to have won here twice and completed my career Grand Slam here twice, it doesn’t get any sweeter than that.”
Woods joins Jack Nicklaus as the only player to win each of golf’s four majors at least twice. And fittingly, he accomplished the feat on the same revered layout where Nicklaus was once its unquestioned sovereign … and at the conclusion of a week that will be remembered for the Golden Bear’s final bow.
The 65-year-old Nicklaus, winner of a record 18 professional majors, concluded his brilliant competitive career in golf’s Grand Slams on Friday. Nicklaus missed the cut by two strokes (75-72), but not before he authored one last magic moment, rolling home a 14-footer for birdie with his last Slam stroke.
“Jack’s the greatest champion that’s ever lived,” said Woods, who as a youngster slept under a poster of Nicklaus. “He’s been the benchmark for every player that’s ever played the game, at least in my generation.”
The 29-year-old Woods is well on his way to blistering that benchmark and establishing a standard of dominance that perhaps no sport has ever seen.
Only Walter Hagen (11 majors) stands between Woods and Nicklaus on the major roster. And yesterday’s victory moves Woods comfortably ahead of the Nicklaus pace. The Golden Bear didn’t win his 10th major (1972 Masters) until 32 in his 48th Slam start. Woods, who still has one more chance (next month’s PGA Championship at Baltusrol) before exiting his 20s, reached double digits in just his 41st start.
“He knows as well as anyone that he’s well on his way to Jack’s 18. And that’s a record we thought would never be broken,” said the 42-year-old Montgomerie, who closed with a 72 but was far from disappointed with his week after a long-awaited resurgence resulted in his best major finish since the 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional. “There’s never a disgrace in losing to the best player of our generation by far.”
That status as golf’s unquestioned titan was in question before this season, when Woods had gone 10 straight majors without a victory and the talk of the tour was golf’s Big Five (Woods, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and Retief Goosen).
But in the past several months, Woods has quashed such chatter and reclaimed his throne, winning four times, collecting a fourth green jacket at the Masters, finishing second at the U.S. Open and claiming a second claret jug.
In overpowering both the 7,279-yard, par-72 Old Course and the field this week, Woods looked once again like the juggernaut who mocked both challengers and the record books in 2000-01, when he won four straight majors by a total of 26 strokes. And once again, he must be measured against history rather than his overwhelmed peers. As Woods stands on the cusp of his 30s, the decade long considered a golfer’s prime, perhaps the Nicklaus legacy represents his only real rival.
“Jack took 25 years, I believe it was, to win all 18 of his [majors], so it’s not going to happen overnight,” Woods said. “To have the opportunity to get to 10 already this soon in my career is very exciting. … I’ve been very blessed, I’ll tell you that, to have had the luck and the fortune to win this many tournaments. It’s been a great ride.”