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A victory here and we'll call him Sir Tiger

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By HUBERT MIZELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 16, 2000


ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- As his conquests mount, and his Stanford mind inhales history, the Tiger Woods package is extraordinary at age 24 as golf's still-escalating dominator alights at St. Andrews with a dynamic opportunity.

His sport was invented centuries ago on these lumpy, treeless, seaside Scottish acres. None of golf's grand arenas, even Augusta or Pebble Beach, equals the Old Course for deep-rooted ambiance.

Again, the game's supreme contemporaries gather for the British Open, a tournament born in 1860 whose impact in 2000 is globally unsurpassed, challenging a grassy cathedral that is longer than ever at 7,115 yards.

Woods amply comprehends.

"What a magnificent chance I have," he said four days ago in Ireland, "knowing that four days of solid golf, in the game's ultimate setting, can complete the Grand Slam."

He could be Sir Tiger.

Woods won a Masters by 12 strokes at Augusta National in 1997, gutted out a PGA Championship by the most trembling of margins at Chicago's Medinah in 1999, then last month made it a Three-Quarters Slam, annihilating all comers in the U.S. Open to win by 15 at Pebble Beach.

After his artistry on the Monterey Peninsula, there was considerable surrender in the voices of humbled Tiger chasers. Grit will be reaffirmed, at least until Thursday when the British Open cranks.

"We're not a pack of quitters," Masters champion Vijay Singh said in a BBC radio interview. "Nobody has ever been a lock in a major championship. Nobody. Jack Nicklaus, never. Not Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Gary Player or Tom Watson. What we saw at the U.S. Open was indeed incredible. But people shouldn't be so silly, no matter how good Tiger can be, to think that every major championship will now be his private party."

Woods knows that.

"My only real concern is me," said the California colossus, who came to hang his swoosh cap in Florida. "Nobody ever truly dominates golf. But, yes, I'm trying as hard as I can to do just that.

"If my swing is solid, which it appears to be, it will come down to two factors: putting those enormous Old Course greens and the Scottish weather. Only one of those I have any chance to control."

Ah, an admission of mortality.

Tiger's routine is to not play competitive golf the week before a major championship. He arrived in Ireland on Monday, participated in a carefree pro-am then went fishing. Woods also attended a Payne Stewart memorial service.

"I've been working for two or three weeks on tactics for St. Andrews," he said in an interview with Irish television. "Especially some shots with a shorter backswing and less follow through, seeking lower ball flight for use in the wind."

Golf has been Woods-kicked into a higher gear. An all-time buzz. Wider interest than ever for Bobby Jones, Nelson, Arnold Palmer or even Nicklaus. Tigermania rocks.

It goes well beyond pure golf fanatics. Interest has mushroomed among fringe followers, even some with next-to-zero interest in golf, all due to this intriguing young man with explosive talents.

During his Ireland stopover, there was a Tiger charity auction. Joseph Lewis, 65, a British billionaire who lives in the Bahamas, vowed 1.4-billion pounds ($2.3-million) to play 18 holes of golf this year with Tiger and his Orlando pal, former Masters and U.S. Open champion Mark O'Meara.

They will tee it up at Isleworth, where Woods and O'Meara live, an exclusive enclave owned by Lewis' daughter, 40-year-old Vivian Silverton. He ranks as sixth richest Briton with $3-billion-plus. Among the international currency dealer's playthings is a $100-million yacht.

Can I be their fourth?

Tiger value is mercurial.

What if he rules St. Andrews?

Imagine the next gear.

Weather will have considerable impact. It's been a cool July in Britain. Scotland can be a daily adventure. Players can experience four seasons in four hours. Old Course gear should include wool cap, sweater, jacket, rain suit, extra golf gloves, cozy mittens and a bagful of patience.

"I'm hoping there will be significant wind," Woods said, "although nobody wants a hurricane. In the heart of the course, there are seemingly docile holes. Places where you can make lots of birdies, maybe even eagles on short par fours.

"To balance the scales, there are some really severe ones, topped by the Road Hole (17th). There is new length to the Old Course. It's a huge mistake to cruise around St. Andrews during a tranquil practice round and assume we will eat up this place."

Smart fellow.

During the golfing century just past, a few memorable Americans have indelibly endeared themselves to knowledgeable, discerning British galleries. Crowds at the Open are loaded with locals whose feelings are deep for the game's history, principles and traditions.

They adored Jones. They wept while hurrahing Palmer when, to complete a generation of British Open importance, he waved goodbye from the Swilcan Bridge at the Old Course's concluding hole.

Brits were enthralled by the unparalleled excellence of Nicklaus. They knew of his caring grasp of Old World golf. Much the same with Tom Watson, a smiling redhead from Kansas City whose best body of work was flying the Atlantic five times and winning the Open.

Icons held dear.

Woods has a sweet shot this week to nudge his Nikes into a considerable British door, carrying himself in exemplary St. Andrews style, then by winning this Open, allowing such a young bloke to homestead with a small and elite Grand Slam colony: Nicklaus, Hogan, Player and Gene Sarazen.

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