Woods’ win in Masters puts Grand Slam pos­si­bil­ity in play

Next two ma­jors are on fa­vor­able cour­ses

The Buffalo News - - SPORTS -

Jack Nick­laus was fish­ing in the Ba­hamas on Sun­day as Tiger Woods re­sumed cir­cling him in the quest for Nick­laus’ record of 18 ma­jor golf cham­pi­onships. But in his news con­fer­ence af­ter win­ning the Masters for his 15th ma­jor ti­tle, Woods didn’t sound ex­actly blood­thirsty.

“I’m sure that I’ll prob­a­bly think of it go­ing down the road,” Woods said, re­fer­ring to Nick­laus’ 18 vic­to­ries at golf’s four ma­jor tour­na­ments. “Maybe. Maybe not. But right now, it’s a lit­tle soon, and I’m just en­joy­ing 15.”

Then again, Woods didn’t have to say much. His clubs had de­liv­ered a con­vinc­ing ar­gu­ment that he is “trending in the right di­rec­tion,” as Woods is fond of say­ing. Tony Finau, who was grouped with Woods in the fi­nal round, was more suc­cinct.

“From what I saw to­day,” Finau said Sun­day, “ob­vi­ously he’s not go­ing any­where.”

Brooks Koepka, who has won three ma­jors since 2017, felt con­fi­dent go­ing out on this limb: “I think 18 is a whole lot closer than peo­ple think.”

How about three-months-off close? What Woods put into play Sun­day was the elu­sive cal­en­dar Grand Slam — win­ning all four ma­jors in the same year. No player in the mod­ern era has done it.

In golf’s sto­ried his­tory, only one man, am­a­teur Bobby Jones in 1930, has man­aged it.

Woods has come exquisitely close. He claimed the U.S. Open, Bri­tish Open and PGA Cham­pi­onship in 2000 and the Masters in 2001 for what be­came known as the “Tiger Slam.”

The next two ma­jors are at cour­ses on which Woods has a proven track record of suc­cess.

The PGA Cham­pi­onship will take place next month at Beth­page Black on Long Is­land, site of Woods’ wireto-wire vic­tory at the 2002 U.S. Open (he also tied for sixth when the tour­na­ment re­turned there in 2009).

The U.S. Open is in June at Peb­ble Beach in California, where Woods won the 2000 tour­na­ment by a record 15 strokes — and where he also won the an­nual PGA Tour event the same year.

If Woods is go­ing to chase the great white whale of golf records, he couldn’t ask for more invit­ing seas.

Dur­ing a 11-year ma­jor ti­tle drought that was ex­ac­er­bated by in­juries and ig­nominy, Woods needed to be in con­tention on the back nine in the fi­nal round a cou­ple of times be­fore he broke through. His first tests came at last year’s fi­nal two ma­jors and Woods ac­quit­ted him­self well, shar­ing sixth place at the Bri­tish Open and fin­ish­ing se­cond at the PGA Cham­pi­onship.

“The 15th was al­ways go­ing to be the hard­est,” said Rickie Fowler, 30, who joined the PGA Tour in 2010 and had seen Woods win nine tour ti­tles be­fore Sun­day.

But two of the golfers who fin­ished one stroke be­hind Woods — Xan­der Schauf­fele, 25, and Koepka, 28 — joined the tour af­ter Woods’ last dom­i­nant sea­son, his five-ti­tle haul in 2013. Of Woods’ 81 tour vic­to­ries, one shy of ty­ing Sam Snead’s ca­reer mark, they ex­pe­ri­enced only the 2018 Tour Cham­pi­onship up close and per­sonal.

And yet, if any­thing, they seemed en­er­gized, not en­er­vated, by their head-to-head bat­tle with Woods.

“It’s what I saw as a kid,” Schauf­fele said.

Schauf­fele and Koepka are too young to have been de­mor­al­ized by Woods in his peak years. They saw his name at the top of the leader­board Sun­day, and they re­joiced.

“You want to play against the best to ever play, you want to go toe-to-toe with them,” Koepka said.

He added: “I en­joy the bat­tle. I en­joy ev­ery­thing that goes on with it. He got the bet­ter of me this time and it’s fun and I’m sure he’s ec­static about it, but hope­fully there will be more.”

Even with the depth in the men’s game, do you re­ally want to bet against Woods?

In the past three ma­jors, his worst fin­ish is a sixth, and if you cal­cu­late his av­er­age fin­ish, he has fared slightly bet­ter than Italy’s Francesco Moli­nari (tie for fifth, tie for sixth, win) and much bet­ter than Koepka, who won the PGA Cham­pi­onship but fin­ished out­side the top 30 at last year’s Bri­tish Open.

Justin Thomas? He has a tie for 12th, a tie for sixth and a missed cut. Schauf­fele? He has two se­cond-place ties but fin­ished out­side the top-30 at the PGA Cham­pi­onship.

“My last three ma­jor cham­pi­onships have been pretty good,” Woods said, “so that in it­self gives me a lot of con­fi­dence go­ing down the road.”

Woods’ fifth Masters vic­tory drew com­par­isons to Nick­laus’ sixth, which came in 1986 when he was 46. Nick­laus never won an­other reg­u­lar tour event, al­though he con­tended at the 1998 Masters at the age of 58, fin­ish­ing tied for sixth. He was four strokes be­hind the win­ner, Mark O’Meara, but two ahead of Woods, who, at 22, was the de­fend­ing cham­pion.

Woods rarely played more than two tour events — if that — be­tween ma­jors dur­ing his prime, so this year’s sched­ule, which is com­pressed to fa­cil­i­tate a La­bor Day fin­ish, shouldn’t pose a prob­lem. Peo­ple un­der­es­ti­mate his en­dur­ing pas­sion for competition at their peril.

“In the tour­na­ments I do play in,” he said Sun­day, “I’ll be fully in­vested and com­mit­ted to play­ing and try­ing to win.”

Getty Im­ages

Tiger Woods’ vic­tory at the Masters on Sun­day lines up the pos­si­bil­ity of him fi­nally win­ning a Grand Slam.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.