Woods can't make history, only match it

Tiger Woods already has a green jacket and a claret jug. All he lacks going into the United States PGA Championship is that aura of invincibility that two majors no longer buy.

Woods can’t make history at Baltusrol, only match it.

It was five years ago that he overwhelmed the US PGA Tour by capturing the final three majors of the season, putting himself so far ahead of the rest of the pack that some knew they were playing for second before they had a chance to hit their first tee shot.

“He was unbeatable because he probably believed he was unbeatable,” Padraig Harrington said.

A playoff victory at the Masters in April, followed by a start-to-finish victory last month at the British Open, again leaves Woods on the cusp of capturing three Grand Slam events in one year.

He has the players’ attention. He never lost their respect.

But no one is conceding anything to him anymore.

“The atmosphere is nowhere near what it was in 2000 because I had won the US Open by 15 shots and the British Open by eight,” Woods said on Tuesday.

“On top of that, I’ve done this before.
I guess from some of the guys I’ve talked to this week in the media, just the novelty factor is not there anymore. I’ve already done it.

“Hopefully, I can do it again.”

He clearly is the player to beat at Baltusrol, which plays right into his powerful hands. The Lower Course, where Jack Nicklaus twice set scoring records at the US Open, stretches nearly 7 400 yards at a par 70. The fairways are so soft from rain and the humid August afternoons that the ball rolls only a couple of yards after it lands.

“It does eliminate a lot of the guys who can’t hit the ball long and high,” Woods said.

Still, there is a difference in how Woods is perceived by his peers.

Two majors alone should be enough to signal that he is back on top of his game, or close enough to make others wonder if he can be even better. But there are other signs that he is mortal after all, from the cut he missed in Dallas to the putts he missed under pressure at Pinehurst to the beating he took from Vijay Singh in

the third round of the Buick Open two weeks ago.

“In 2000, he was a phenomenal player that nobody could touch,” Harrington said. “Now, he’s still a great player, but he’s probably not as untouchable as he was.”

Sergio Garcia, unwilling to put Woods on a pedestal, was asked whether he thought Woods had returned to the dominant figure he was five years ago.

“He’s not back at where he was in 2000, for sure,” Garcia said.

“He’s playing well. I don’t know. He’s got his problems, and I’ve got my problems, and we’ll try to work those out.”

Some already have suggested this is a two-man race between the top two players in the world, Woods and Singh, which brought a sharp response from the guy who kept Woods from a shot at the Grand Slam.

“I believe there’s five missing from the top 100 in the world,” US Open champion Michael Campbell said.

“I would not say it’s a two-horse race. I think it’s anyone’s game this week.”

Campbell is still glowing from his victory at Pinehurst two months ago, when he refused to buckle as Woods made a late charge on Sunday. Woods twice got within one shot of the lead, but fell back with sloppy bogeys over the closing holes.

“I showed to everybody and to the rest of the world that he can be beat,” Campbell said.

“I managed to knock him off his pedestal for a week, which is nice.”

That’s a big change from 2000, when Woods won nearly half of the tournaments he entered and got into players’ heads. Davis Love III spoke frankly about Woods being nearly impossible to beat when he was on his game. Colin Montgomerie said everyone in the locker room knew they were playing for second when Woods had a good start.

“When he would throw up a low score the first day at, say, the US Open in 2000, I think most guys in the field thought it was over even before they teed off,” Lee Janzen said.

“When he first started playing, I think everybody just kind of said, ‘Well, we never saw that one coming.’ And we’ve been playing catchup ever since.”

What keeps Wood from being so intimidating now is a recent slump—10 majors without a victory, only one PGA Tour victory in a 16-month span while retooling his swing with coach Hank Haney.

But a victory at the PGA Championship might be what it takes to change all that.

He already has four victories this year against the toughest fields—the Masters and British Open, and the Buick Invitational and Ford Championship at Doral. He has added some 20 yards to his tee shots, and he says his iron play already is better than it was in 2000.

“Confidence, I feel just as good,” he said.

His comfort level is at an all-time high.

Woods went through his usual practice routine for a major, teeing off at 6.15am on Tuesday while the neighbourhood around Baltusrol was just getting out of bed. He finished in a little over three hours, ate breakfast, spent more than an hour on the practice range and showed up for his pre-tournament interview.

But when it was over, he was in no hurry to leave.

Woods leaned forward, resting his chin on his hands as he chatted with about five dozen reporters for 20 minutes about perceptions of his game, and the criticism he took for changing his swing.

“I remember having the same conversations back in ‘98 and ‘99—‘Why would you make a change when you won the Masters by 12?”’ Woods said. “Well, so I could win by 13, and I could win more of them. That’s the whole idea. That’s why I made the changes.

“I don’t want to go back to 2000. I want to become better than that.” - Sapa-AP

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