Woods, Grand Slam: It has to start with MastersAUGUSTA, Ga. - Of all the guys who play in the Masters, Tiger Woods, through the simple facility of being Tiger Woods, is the only one constantly pressed with the question - can you win the Grand Slam?
The slam is the four majors, won all in the same year - the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship. The task of beating all of the best golfers in the world on four of the most demanding courses in the world four times in the same season makes horseracing's Triple Crown look like a run around the back yard. No one's ever won the Slam. Not Ben Hogan or Sam Snead, not Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus, and not even Tiger Woods.
(There has to be an asterisk here: Bobby Jones did win the Grand Slam in 1930, but it was the slam of his day - the U.S. and British Amateurs, and the U.S. and British Opens.)
And so the question has arrived at its annual point of prime relevance, the Masters this week. Who doesn't win the Masters, by definition, cannot win the Slam. Usually, the question doesn't arise until after there's a current Masters champ to ask. But this is Tiger Woods, by consensus the Player Most Likely to Succeed in doing golf's impossible dream. And he's been playing like a man possessed. He has entered, as one poet put it, “the zone of extreme expectation.”
And so the question came up Tuesday, when Woods was fielding questions from the media corps. He didn't predict that he would win the Slam, but he came more or less close to doing so. To begin with, he said earlier this year that winning the slam was possible, which, like climbing Everest, is.
“You have to understand why I said that,” Woods said. “Because I've done it before - I've won all four in a row.”
But not in the same year, however, and that was what all the hooting was about. Woods had won the PGA in 2000, the last major of the year, and then in 2001 whizzed through the first three, the Masters, the U.S. Open and the PGA. Feverish fans of Woods were quick to proclaim that he had topped Everest, breached history. That he had won the unwinnable Grand Slam.
Ah, that was a contentious time.
Other voices insisted that the Slam has always been regarded as a same-year thing, and eventually even Woods agreed that he hadn't reached El Dorado. So the One-Plus-Three became known as the Tiger Slam, and that's where the issue sits to this day. And this is a new year, beginning Thursday.
Woods has been laying waste to the record books, to say nothing of the outlooks of others seeking riches in tournament golf. There's enough booty to go around, but Woods seems to have staked his claim to all of it. He'd won six in a row going into the recent World Golf Championship-CA at Doral. He's won nine of his last 11 starts, worldwide, going back to last year. There's another crucial question going into the Masters: How are you playing?
It's a waste of time, asking Woods.
In addition, he owns Augusta National. He was a kid when he first played in the Masters, in 1995, and tied for 45th. He missed the cut in '96, shooting 75-75. Then he took over, like a cat playing with a mouse. He's won four Masters. In 1997, he subjected the course and the field to cruel and unusual punishment, shooting a record 18-under 270 and winning by a record 12 strokes, just for an idea. And then he won in '01, '02 and '05, tying Palmer at four Masters. Nicklaus holds the record, six, and won that sixth at age 46. Woods is 32.
Augusta National, it would seem, is his for the taking, despite his disclaimers.
Can you make birdies here the way you used to? came the question.
“No,” Woods said. “You used to say that par was 68 here for the longer hitters. I remember roaming around here and hitting good drives off the par-5s and good irons to every green. That's no longer the case.”
He was speaking, in part, of Augusta's newer length, 7,445 yards. And of changes to the course, some of them elegantly subtle. At the par-4 No. 9, for example, a downhill dogleg-left. “You used to hit the ball so far right to give yourself an angle up to those left pins,” he said, and noting certain trees now in place, he added, “You can't really do that anymore.”
Then there's the frizzy rough that, he agreed, helps the golfers by keeping stray tee shots from rolling into the trees, but hurts them on the chancy second shots -- although, truth be known, they're hitting OK out of tougher rough elsewhere on the PGA Tour.
If a man can be measured by his appetite, Tiger Woods sounds like a guy sitting
down to a feast. And it seems he's expected to win the Grand Slam, the way Ali was expected to knock out the world. Does this bother him?
“No, it actually doesn't,” he said. “Because I play for me and my family - that's it.
“This is my 12th or 13th season out here [actually, 14th], and nine of those years, I've won five or more tournaments,” Woods added, “so I just got to win the right four.”
Return to Latest News archives