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Slam bam!

At just 24 years old, Tiger Woods captures his fourth of the four major championships, winning the British Open by eight strokes and leaving yet another indelible mark in golf history.

By HUBERT MIZELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 24, 2000


ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- Muhammad Ali had Joe Frazier. Affirmed kept surviving Alydar. Martina Navratilova was pushed repeatedly by Chris Evert. Jack Nicklaus was inspired from spirited chases by Lee Trevino and Tom Watson.

Rivalries do stimulate.

Tiger Woods soars alone in championship heaven. He reigns in the PGA, U.S. and British Opens. Grand Slammer at 24. Pulverizing, even embarrassing, overmatched contemporaries.

No neighbors on Tiger Mountain.

"It's sad the way we all back off when Tiger's name pops onto leaderboards," said Sweden's Thomas Bjorn, one of Sunday's far-flung runners-up. "Woods is a great talent, but nobody should be constantly killing all comers in the majors."

David Duval, a non-threatening No. 2 to Tiger in world rankings, began to give invigorating head-to-head pursuit of Woods. Seven holes of heroic hope, making four birdies and missing by centimeters on the other three. Gallery murmuring.

Impressive prod, it seemed.

Numero Uno didn't blink. Woods wouldn't quiver. What, him worry? Eventually another faux rival was burned at Tiger's stake. By the end, Duval was no factor and miserable. Woods bossed last month's U.S. Open by 15, now it's an eight-shot stranglehold on the British.

Holy walkovers.

A few weeks ago, Hal Sutton proclaimed, "Nobody's that good," but the Louisiana chap quickly faded as Tiger's star got brighter. Ernie Els talked fight, having been runner-up to Vijay Singh at the Masters and Woods at the U.S. Open, but Big Easy found Tiger too hard again, limping home in never-a-chance second place.

Duval was all but bleeding. Another so-called rival perishing in Tiger's shadow. Duval needed four whacks to extract his errant golf ball from the Road Bunker at the Old Course's nasty 17th hole. Stumbling to quadruple-bogey 8.

Painful to watch.

That deep and deadly trap, nicknamed the "The Sands of Nakajima" when Japanese golfer Tommy Nakajima blew his chance there in the 1978 Open, may also be termed "The Dunes of Duval."

For him, the last insult.

After pulling within three of Woods after seven holes, Duval lost by 12. From semi-challenging, David crumbled to 43 on the closing nine, plunging to a tie for 11th.

Not the only ugliness.

As the Woods-Duval pairing walked to the 18th, cheers for Tiger were high-decibel Scottish music for a kid Grand Slammer who keeps devouring competition.

Overstimulated spectators began leaping a burn (creek) to get better views. Overwhelmed, panicky security forces tackled several and threw them back into the water.

David, too, was all wet.

As they approached the green, Duval and Woods saw more than screaming patrons, stampeding interlopers and the R&A clubhouse. A woman with no clothes, the weekend's second streaker as Tiger was completing a round, bounded from the masses and danced around the flagstick.

"That's so ridiculous, so low class," Woods said. "That was a moment I will forever treasure, winning the British Open, completing the Grand Slam at the birthplace of golf; then we see stuff that nobody should feel good about."

Duval felt rotten. His slide over the final seven holes, a 7-over-par mess, with his humiliation at the 17th, riddled a proud athletic heart.

Tiger understood. In his moment of triumph, Woods felt heavy compassion for his well-whipped buddy. "I whispered to David, "You're a true champion. We will have numerous battles,' " Woods said. " "Walk away from this with your head up, like a champion.' He did. I'm really proud of David Duval."

Tiger greatness with grace.

Perhaps the PGA Tour should rewrite its well-trumpeted slogan, making it "That guy is good." Against the thoroughbred Woods, the also-rans are looking like mules.

"It's good to be pushed," said Nicklaus, the Tiger Woods of his generation. "It can make a strong player even better. Tiger needs that. It'll happen, but maybe from some 10-year-old kid who's watching on TV. Like years ago, when Nick Faldo saw me doing well and decided to take up golf."

Still young, Woods camps among legends, having won all four Grand Slam tournaments, wizardry accomplished heretoforeo by Nicklaus, Gary Player, Gene Sarazen and Ben Hogan.

Tiger is well shy of Jack's mighty 18 championships. "If he eventually wins more than me," Nicklaus said, "I hope I'm around to shake Tiger's hand. Right now, there seems none who're well armed enough to consistently take him on."

Woods possesses the U.S. Open, PGA and British Open championships all at once. Nobody has worn all three crowns at the same time since Jack ruled the 1971 PGA and the 1972 Masters and U.S. Open.

In this historically whitest of sports, men of color are today champs of all four majors, Singh having the Masters and Woods everything else. Singh, of Indian heritage, grew up in Fiji. "Times," Tiger said, "they are changing."

Although a feisty, indelible Woods rival would be entertaining, you wonder how high Tiger can be prodded. He won a Masters by more strokes than anybody (1997), flattened U.S. Open aspirants by more shots and wins a British Open in the most lopsided romp since 1913, when J.H. Taylor won by eight strokes over Ted Ray. Woods can be pushed only by Tiger.

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