Woods claims early victim

AUGUSTA, Georgia, Reuters

Tiger Woods claimed an early victim three days before opening his campaign to reclaim the Masters title and become the first man to win each of the four majors in a row.

Striding out of the clubhouse on the way to his first practice session on Monday, Woods smiled as he watched a television cameraman backing off frantically to get the great man in focus.

“Duck, duck,” Woods called out, too late to stop the cameraman crashing backward into a low branch on the ancient oak tree standing in front the clubhouse.

The cameraman and tree survived and Woods moved on to play the opening nine holes before thousands of spectators enjoying the spring sun and savoring the opportunity to watch the world’s greatest golfer.

He then spent 45 minutes practicing on the putting green with his close friend Mark O’Meara watched by coach Butch Harmon before he was escorted through a throng of spectators back into the clubhouse.

During the day a succession of opponents gave their thoughts on the Woods phenomonen with three times champion Nick Faldo offering the most original suggestion.

Asked how best to tackle the Tiger, Faldo, to the mystification of the American media, said the only possible solution was to bring on the giant New Zealand rugby union winger Jonah Lomu.

“Bloody hell,” said Faldo. “You’d probably need Jonah Lomu to catch him. You just have to get in there and hang in there and see what happens.”

Lomu compatriot Michael Campbell said: “He’s the man to beat at the moment. His form is obviously incredible, he’s the guy who’s going to set the pace.”

Defending champion Vijay Singh, the only other player to win a major last year, acknowledged Woods’s prowess.

“He’s a phenomenon,” said the Fijian. “But we are going to try and stop him.”

Bob May, who took Woods to a playoff at the PGA last year, said Woods performed best when the competition was fiercest.

“He loves the challenge,” May said. “He likes to go out there and beat them but he likes the challenge.”

Fellow-American Jim Furyk was asked about the intimidation factor among Woods’s competitors.

“There are quite a few players who are going to be intimidated,” he replied. “Then there are a lot like Jerry Kelly who went out at The Players Championship and who played very well. He wasn’t intimidated at all.”

Furyk conceded Woods was changing the face of the game.

“If he goes out there and shoots 18 under then the course will get a little longer.”

A side issue of the season’s first major is whether a win for Woods would constitute a grand slam or whether, as in tennis, he would need to win them in the course of a season.

Arnold Palmer, four times champion during the 1950s and 60s, gave his view on Monday.

“You have to win the four majors in one year,” he pronounced.

Rain has been forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday with fine weather predicted for the four days of the season’s first major, which will make conditions progessively more difficult for the players.

“The greens are so hard and tough right now,” said Campbell.

“Come Sunday if there’s no more rain it’s going to be even tougher.”