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Woods' trophies are four the ages


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 9, 2001

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Freeze the moment. Cherish the experience. This is beyond greatness. Surpassing all sports wonderworkers from all generations. Even before Sunday, he was king of the world, but now Tiger Woods rules history.

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Freeze the moment. Cherish the experience. This is beyond greatness. Surpassing all sports wonderworkers from all generations. Even before Sunday, he was king of the world, but now Tiger Woods rules history.

Superhuman, then some.

Go ahead, we can compare and debate, airing arguments from all the games people have ever played, but nobody should be so snobbish and/or discriminating as to characterize the Tiger Slam as anything but Grand.

No asterisk, please!

David Duval and Phil Mickelson, most robust among Woods' challengers since he turned pro 4 1/2 years ago, but still not a major championship between them, came storming at Tiger with all competitive weapons and hungry emotions during a more-than-magic afternoon.

Double-D and Lefty, felled by destiny.

Duval's total of 14-under-par 274 was not only the best non-winning Masters score ever, it would have made him the champ in 59 of the 64 prior tournaments and earned the Georgia Tech graduate a playoff shot in two others.

Sunday was really special.

On the final green, Woods needed but a two-putt for unparalleled glory, but he Slam-dunked it, a 18-foot birdie that brought the Augusta National multitude to heavenly cheers and Tiger to heroic tears.

Then, as Mickelson was putting out, Woods clutched a black ball cap to his face. No dam could harness a triumphant flood. Tiger soon bared eyes turning crimson as delight streaked his cheeks "Losing it for a moment," he said.

Losing? No way.

Not many years ago, at the sweet core of Jack Nicklaus conquests, a Grand Slam was near-unfathomable. Fantasy talk. If the blond guy won a solitary major, then two or three ordinary tournaments in the same year, it was hurrahed as another magnificent nugget for the mightiest golfer ever.

Woods has exploded golfer limitations, plus ballooning expectations. How high can his bar go? Tiger hits drives 320 yards, has a deft touch with irons and putts as well as he needs. With the fire of a Pete Rose and the dramatics of a Jesse Owens.

In 2000, a wizard barely 24 years old conquered the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA, winning nine times in all. We wondered if 2001 might see a Tiger falloff.

Standards had become so exotic that when he finished third or fourth, it was termed a slump. Yeah, right. It was just magnificence in recoil. About to unleash deeds more spectacular.

Since his grand fallback, Woods has won three straight tournaments, at Bay Hill and the Players Championship and now the Slammer at the Masters. If he stays healthy, with unsubsiding jock desire, there are no tea leaves or crystal balls that can know how long and how far this son of Tida and Earl Woods can go.

Next major championship is the U.S. Open in Tulsa, on a Southern Hills track that should be Oklahoma-OK for Tiger. I mean, what course isn't? Maybe he'll make it five Slam wins in a row, then we can talk a sixth for the British Open at Royal Lytham.

This is beyond extraordinary.

Until now, the most smashing run in majors was Ben Hogan's three-bagger of 1953, taking the Masters, U.S. Open and British (he skipped the PGA Championship). For half a century, the only real shot at a Slam seemed to have died with Ben's pass, but now we have Tiger and even more.

No, at 25, the Stanford gent hasn't overtaken Nicklaus, whose 18 professional majors seemed so uncatchable until Woods began to dominate. Tiger is one-third of the way to Jack. No lock to outdo the Golden Bear, but after Sunday it may be a 50-50 bet, depending on aforementioned Tiger factors of ongoing sound body and goal-chasing mind.

Perspective can be difficult, as Woods flies home to Orlando in his personal jet, soon to arrange untarnishable gold and silver from the Grand Slam on his coffee tables, representing 10 months of being the best on courses at Pebble Beach, St. Andrews, Valhalla (Louisville) and Augusta.

But let's try.

Woods, to catch Nicklaus, needs to average 11/2 major wins from now until the year 2010. Let's try one more. Jack, as an amateur and pro golfer, finished the the top 10 in 74 majors. Tiger, at 25, has done it 11 times. He can attain the Nicklaus number by never missing the top 10 between here and his 41st birthday.

Want to bet against it?

For me, the joy of having "been there" is remarkable, through 40 years in journalism, with all the Olympics, Super Bowls, World Series, Final Fours, Wimbledons and other mighty occurences my job has allowed me to attend and analyze, seeing Nicklaus and so many historic titans, but nothing quite matches what I just watched being wrapped up at Augusta National.

My final Masters as Times columnist. What a way to go.

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