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Nicklaus: Slam may kill desire

The sport and Tiger Woods may be better off if he doesn't achieve the Grand Slam so soon, says the golfing great.

By BOB HARIG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 17, 2002


GULLANE, Scotland -- We can wonder what's wrong with all the other players and wish for someone to make Tiger Woods sweat. It's a familiar theme at major championships.

But what if Woods eliminates the mystery himself? What if he loses the motivation to be the best golfer in the world? What if he conquers every goal?

None other than Jack Nicklaus posed the questions. The man whose records Woods is pursuing, including 18 professional major championships, said it might be best for Woods and golf if he did not complete the Grand Slam this year.

"I think you ought to take it any time you can get it," Nicklaus said. "(But) I think for the game of golf, it would probably be better 10 years from now when he's getting to the end of his career, rather than the beginning of his career, so he still has the desire to play."

At the moment, Woods is focused on the 131st British Open Championship, which begins Thursday at Muirfield. He's not much concerned about next week or next year.

But what if Woods wins here, then goes to Hazeltine next month near Minneapolis and wins the PGA Championship to complete the Grand Slam? What goals would be left?

"Well," Woods said, "do it again."

Woods says he already has done it once. When he won the last three majors of 2000 and the first in 2001, he was the first player in the modern era to win four consecutive Grand Slam events.

Now he's trying to become the first to do so in the same calendar year, something Nicklaus could not do 30 years ago when he came to Muirfield having won the Masters and the U.S. Open.

In fact, only Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer (1960) entered the British Open with the opportunity to win four majors in a season. Both were stalled at the British.

"I think probably it's going to be a little more difficult to win in the same calendar year because you have to start off with the first one (the Masters)," Woods said Tuesday at Muirfield, where he completed a third practice round on the storied links course in cool, rainy conditions. "You can't just win like I did, win the U.S. Open and win three in a row and then wait.

"The hardest thing I had to do was wait seven months (for the Masters) and have to be asked that question. At least this year, it happens month after month. It's a lot easier to deal with."

It's also easier when you're hitting the ball as well as Woods did two years ago. He won nine times on the PGA Tour in 2000, then won the two events leading into the 2001 Masters.

"I've played well in the major championships, that's what I want to do," said Woods, who has won eight majors. "I haven't hit the ball as close to the flags consistently as in 2000. I was probably a little more aggressive because I felt a little better about hitting the ball close. This year I've kind of played a little more conservatively because I haven't hit the ball quite as crisp as I did in 2000."

He's working on it. Although Woods has not played a competitive round since June 16, the last day of the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black Course near New York, he spent last week honing his game and fishing skills in Ireland with buddy Mark O'Meara. Although Woods skipped the Western Open two weeks ago to recover from an illness, he probably is better off for missing the tournament.

For one, he has not had to answer an endless number of Grand Slam questions -- Tuesday's were the first he took from the media since the U.S. Open. And he got to work on his game in similar conditions to what he will find at Muirfield.

"He is pretty focused right now," O'Meara said. "It's quite amazing, the pressure that he's under. What people expect of him and what he expects of himself and to accomplish the things he's accomplished at 26 years of age ... it is quite phenomenal."

It's been a long time since anyone could get excited about the prospects presented to Woods. For all his major-championship success, Nicklaus accomplished the Masters-U.S. Open double once, then lost to Lee Trevino by a stroke here in 1972. Palmer, who won the first two in 1960, finished second to Kel Nagle by a stroke at St. Andrews.

So in the past 42 years, just two players had managed to capture the first two majors -- and they were two of the greatest in history.

Maybe that's why Nicklaus thinks there may be nothing left for Woods if he won the Grand Slam this year.

"Give me any other (goal) that he'd have, except my (major championship) record," Nicklaus said. "I think my record would be pretty meager after you win two Grand Slams, frankly."

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