NEW YORK, Reuters
Tiger Woods has silenced the critics who said he had lost his winning knack and is now aiming for a Masters triumph that would make him the holder of all four major championships at once.
It is just the sort of scenario that seems to bring out the best in the 25-year-old American world number one.
“I think the word pressure and Tiger go hand in hand,” says Briton Colin Montgomerie. “I don’t think pressure affects that man at all. He thrives on it and will be doing that at the Masters.”
No-one has ever held the four professional majors — the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship — at the same time.
The only golf feat comparable was achieved by Bobby Jones when he swept the four most important tournaments of his time — the U.S. and British Opens and the U.S. and British Amateurs — in 1930, a single-season triumph that was dubbed golf’s Grand Slam and earned Jones a tickertape parade through New York City.
Woods heads to Augusta National for the Masters starting on April 5, on a course conceived by Jones himself, hoping to produce his 21st century version of the Grand Slam.
“I feel as if I’m headed in the right direction, no doubt about that,” Woods allowed after his one stroke victory at Sawgrass over 2000 Masters winner Vijay Singh of Fiji.
Woods admitted he had been practising shots specifically designed to help him at Augusta during his current winning streak. Of course, Woods knows his way around the immaculate Augusta National layout having shot a record total of 18 under par when he won by a record 12 shots in 1997.
The American posted another record score in winning the British Open by eight strokes in July before winning a playoff duel with unheralded Bob May at August’s PGA.
Some quibble that Woods cannot take full credit for capturing the Grand Slam if his streak stretches over two seasons.
A pair of Australians, perhaps schooled in the tennis Grand Slam heroics of compatriot Rod Laver, are sticklers for the single-season standard.
“I don’t think it is,” says Craig Parry, when asked whether Woods would complete a Grand Slam by winning the Masters next week. “But it’s an unbelievable feat anyway.”
Robert Allenby said simply: “The Grand Slam is all four majors in one year.”
Others were less sure.
“If you have all four, it doesn’t matter if it’s in the same year or not,” said 21-year-old Spaniard Sergio Garcia, who finished runner-up to Woods at the 1999 PGA Championship.
World number two Phil Mickelson said: “Nobody has ever held all four majors at the same time. I think that that would be an unbelievable feat, especially given that a few years ago nobody thought that it was ever even feasible.
“And now the odds on him doing it are extremely good. He’s going to be the favourite playing that week. He only has to win one tournament to do it.
“It’s a pretty exciting time. I feel very fortunate to be about one of only 80 people in the world who are going to try to not let that happen.”
When Woods won the 2000 British Open at St. Andrews he became only the fifth player — and the youngest – to win all four majors during his career, joining Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus.
Montgomerie, who captured a record seven European Order of Merit titles from 1993-99, suggested that Woods could make all the arguments academic.
“Who says he can’t win all four this year and hold seven?” said the big Briton.
Woods himself has the tournament planned out.
“I just want to be in contention, to have a chance to win the tournament on the back nine on Sunday,” said Woods, who has already approved his clothing ensemble for every round of the 2001 majors.
Should he win the Masters, he knows just where the trophy would go.
“Looking at the trophies that I have on my mantelpiece, three are lined up,” said Woods of his silverware from the other majors.
“If I can put the Masters there as well that is good enough for me. I have enough room.”
Singh undergoes eye surgery, improves his putting Much has been made about Vijay Singh’s improved putting with the mid-length shaft that sticks into his belly. He was 99th in putting last year, and now is in the top 10 for putts per hole. A bigger factor might be the laser surgery he had done on his eyes last year. Singh noticed the difference during a recent practice round at Augusta National. “My glasses were tinted,” the Fijian said. “I didn’t really notice all the details of the green. I read the greens a little bit differently.” Singh says a good stroke is important, but he puts more stock in where the ball is aimed. “If you have the best stroke and the best speed and you don’t read the greens well, you’re not going to make a putt,” Singh said.”With my eyes changing, I’m lining the ball up differently. They’re all a combination of me putting well.” That’s not a bad combination to have going into the Masters.