Tiger means trouble in any language

Tiger Woods has shattered any notion of a golfing “Big Five” with an overwhelming season that even his top rivals admit has proven Woods’ supremacy in the sport.

The 29-year-old American superstar won the Masters and British Open titles, putted poorly and settled for second at the US Open and could capture his 11th career major crown on Sunday at the 87th PGA Championship.

“He’s the best player in the golf game,” Vijay Singh said.

“He has been like that for a while. If you don’t have respect for what he has done, you’re not thinking right. He’s the best player and he has proven it over and over again.”

Woods’ 2004 struggles with swing changes sparked talk of a “Big Five”, which, on paper, meant the American would find himself among the players hoping to benefit from his misfortune.

But Ernie Els has a torn left knee ligament, Retief Goosen blew British and US Open leads, Phil Mickelson has been a major flop, and Singh merely lacklustre.

The only way these rivals have come out on top of Woods is alphabetically.

“I’m not the only one,” Woods claimed.
“Vijay has done all right, you know. Three top 10s. It’s not like he has been out of it.”

With six of his worst seven major rounds on weekends this year, it’s not like the 42-year-old Fijian has been a serious contender despite sharing fifth twice and sixth at the US Open.

“Vijay” means victory in Hindi. Tiger means trouble in any language.

“Tiger has the whole package, a better package, short game, very strong mentally, and I think that’s what makes him just a bit apart from the others,” said two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal of Spain.

Scotland’s Colin Montgomerie, second to Woods by five strokes last month in the British Open at St. Andrews, said rivals cannot help but feel overshadowed in their achievements by the Tiger-mania phenomenon.

“It’s not just [Singh] that’s not embraced. I think Retief might feel that way. I think Ernie Els might feel that way as well. I think it’s just the dominance of Tiger on and off the course,” Montgomerie said.

“His personality and charisma are so strong on and off the course that it tends to feel like others aren’t getting a look in.

I don’t think it’s against them. I think it’s more the fact that Tiger is who he is.

“It would give anybody a lot of delight to beat him in any competition, especially a major. They have become a lot harder to win and he seems to be able to cope with the different pressures more than anyone in our generation.

“It will be interesting to see how he gets on here. He’s still got to hit the fairways. He’s still got to do the job at hand.”

Woods, a 2-1 favorite for his third PGA crown, married Swedish model Elin Nordegren last year and has been unstoppable since.

“I don’t know if it’s his marriage or winning the Masters and British Open but he certainly seems pretty confident and he’s playing very confidently too,” Mickelson said. “He’s going to be a tough competitor this week.”

The golfer with the best chance of denying Woods a title these days is Woods himself. This week’s twist is that Tiger’s usual par-five feast comes at the end of the hunt, Baltusrol Golf Club offering par-five’s only on the final two holes.

“It’s very interesting. I’ve never seen anything like that before, 17 and 18 as par-five’s when you have nothing but par-three’s and par-four’s all the way around,” said Woods, who plans to lay up instead of challenge the epic 650-yard 17th.

“Well, 17 is going to be a three-shot hole unless it turns big-time downwind and the fairways dry out,” Woods said. “Get it down there with a wedge, attack that flag and you can make birdie.”

Ireland’s Padraig Harrington said he has no doubt Woods will surpass Jack Nicklaus’ career record of 18 major titles.

“He’s so set that he is going to do it,” Harrington said. “But everything changes. Every record gets broken. Everything moves on.

That’s the nature of things. Tiger is going to break his record unless something unforeseen happens.”

Even Nicklaus appears in awe.

“How do you compare what he is doing? Nobody has ever done what he is doing. Certainly I didn’t,” Nicklaus said. “He has dominated way beyond how anyone has ever dominated.”

But Nicklaus also noted that a young lion somewhere in the world might already be stalking Woods.

“Sometime in the next three years a young Jack Nicklaus might come along to challenge Tiger,” Nicklaus said.

“Or maybe nobody comes along and Tiger may win another 15 majors. He seems to have the talent, desire and work ethic to do so.” - Sapa-AFP

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