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Jul. 17, 2005

The Torch Is Passed - Woods wins British Open as Nicklaus retires
Tiger wins 10th Major by 5 strokes
by Rick Gagliano

Tiger Woods left little to the imagination today as he captured the 134th British Open by five strokes over a field which struggled to remain within striking distance all weekend.

Unlike the drama of Saturday, when Woods was paired with Scotland's favorite son, Colin Montgomerie, Sunday was a day for a workmanlike Woods to distance himself from his rivals and place his name squarely in the annals of golf legends, winning by five strokes at -14. By winning his second British Open - both at the birthplace of golf, St. Andrews - Woods completed his second career grand slam, very much in the mold of the man who played in his final British Open this week, Jack Nicklaus.

Nicklaus, who holds the record for most career grand slam victories with 18, ended a love affair with the Brits when he birdied the 18th hole on Thursday, failing to make the cut for the final two rounds. Woods' win was his 10th major tournament win, putting him in 3rd place all time, behind only Nicklaus and Walter Hagen, who won 11 majors. Rounding out the top five all time are American Ben Hogan at 9 and South African Gary Player at 8.

Woods began the day with a two stroke lead over Jose Maria Olazabal, who ended the tournament tied for third with Fred Couples at -8. Montgomerie finished second at -9, carding an even-par 72 on the final round amid roars of support from loyal, partisan fans. While Monty was struggling on the back nine, Tiger played in the final pairing right behind, and did not falter, despite some bad luck on #6, where his second shot hit the pin but bounded nearly 20 feet away, and misses of short birdie putts on holes 7 and 8.

Rounding out the top ten were a phalanx of six players. Geoff Ogilvy, Bernhard Langer, Michael Campbell, Vijay Singh, Sergio Garcia and Retief Goosen all came in at 281, -7.

Tiger looked serious and composed all day, and none of the world class players chasing him could mount a challenge on a course which played very rough all week. Despite the absence of severe wind, which is always a plague at St. Andrews, the hot weather, hard ground and tough greens made it difficult to place shots close to the holes and very birdies were produced by the world-class field. From the top ten, only four - Woods (who shot 70), Ogilvy, Langer and Couples (low round of the day at 68) - played the final round under par.

Striding up the 18th fairway with playing partner Olazabal, the crowds cheered more as though it were a coronation than a championship. Woods' steely reserve and conservative play over the final two rounds kept the field at bay and he was never forced to take chances or force shots. The early lead he established on Thursday by carding a 66 in the opening round was challenged only briefly, but never relinquished. As a matter of fact, Woods led from the ninth hole of the first round and never looked back. His record is now a perfect 10 for 10 when leading a tournament after 54 holes.

Tiger's final total of 274 was one of only two in which all four rounds were played under par (66-67-71-70), the other being Langer, who carded 71-69-70-71.

After this latest win, the comparison to Nicklaus are readily available. Nicklaus won his 2nd career grand slam at the age of 31, in his 37th major tournament. Tiger has accomplished the same feat in just 35 major starts and is only 29. There's little doubt that Tiger will win more majors, but whether he can surpass Nicklaus' gaudy record of 18 is still the stuff of widespread speculation.

Surely, Woods is aware of the record, and nobody in the game of golf prepares better for majors than Tiger, so it's a safe bet that by 2010, he'll be close. But there's a lot of grass between the tee and the greens, and the rest of the playing pros certainly aren't going to be standing around just watching, even though that's what it looked like on Sunday.

A look not far down the leaderboard reveals his main rivals for the next couple of years - Garcia, Singh, Goosen and Montgomerie - with Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson always a threat. Of this group, only Monty and Garcia have yet to win a major, and one can only assume they're very hungry. Garcia is only 25, and may not have reached his full potential yet. Another year of maturity on the courses of the world stage and he may finally flourish. Monty, who now bears the title of the best golfer without a major win, has only a few years left.

For now, Woods can bask in the glow of history. The next tournament, the PGA Championship at Baltusrol, is a mere four weeks away (Aug. 11-14) and after that it's a long wait for the next major, in April, at Augusta.

History can wait. For now, this Tiger's got the golf world by the tail... again.


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