I took the British Open field against The Man at the Old Course.
I figured at least one of his four rivals in the so-called Big Five would test Tiger Woods' rebuilt swing and confidence on Sunday's final nine at St. Andrews. And surely some Ben Curtis or Todd Hamilton would turn into Chris DiMarco at the Masters or Michael Campbell at the U.S. Open and give Woods second or third thoughts about whether his new mechanics hold up under stretch pressure.
Man, was I wrong.
As the wind died Sunday afternoon on Scotland's east coast, so did the games of every one of Woods' challengers. He led by 2 shots through nine holes. He won by 5 after merely shooting par on the final nine.
Congratulations to Woods, who appeared to want this one far more than anyone else. Woods won his 10th major as much with his guts as with his majestic shot making. But what a sorry showing it was by all the other so-called big names.
And no, I no longer count 42-year-old Colin Montgomerie and Jose Maria Olazabal, ranked 61st in the world, as primary threats who truly believe they can outgun Woods on an Old Course that was nearly rendered obsolete by Tiger's strength and rocket-fueled balls.
What a letdown: Woods' only challengers at this home run hitter's paradise were two relative short-knockers.
Just once, I'd love to see Phil Mickelson or Vijay Singh or Ernie Els or Retief Goosen trade final-twosome birdies with Woods in the final round of a major the way, say, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson did at the "Duel in the Sun" at Turnberry in 1977. That year, Watson's final-hole birdie helped him beat Nicklaus (who also hit a final-hole birdie) by 1 shot. Watson shot 65 to Nicklaus' 66.
But at this British Open, Tiger kept looking over his shoulder and seeing nothing but cowardly lions. Sunday evening, Woods sounded both surprised and relieved.
"The wind was blowing and all of sudden it laid down a bit," he said. "With it laying down, it seemed like guys would make more birdies. But it just didn't happen."
No, his rivals dropped to their knees as if this were the same Tiger who dominated golf the way no man ever has for a three-year stretch. Woods basically won this tournament by 6 a.m. Eastern time Thursday, when he birdied No. 9 to take a lead he would not relinquish.
By then, 11 a.m. in Scotland, Woods had splashed so much red across the leaderboard -- 4 under through nine -- that rivals waiting to tee off must have fought this thought: "He's going to shoot 32 under and win this thing by 20 shots."
No doubt Tiger Woods is the greatest front-runner in golf history. He's now 9-0 in majors when leading after three rounds.
But recent history strongly suggests Tiger isn't capable of finishing his roar as he did during his three-year reign of terror. At this year's Masters, Memorial, U.S. Open and Western Open, Woods made two final-nine bogeys. Each time it looked as if he didn't quite trust his new swing when he needed to hit the lightning-bolt shot that melted challengers.
At August National, of course, it appeared his pine-shaking chip-in at No. 16 had sent the rest of the field running for cover. But he bogeyed 17 and 18 and was fortunate to wind up in a playoff against a guy who's longer on grit than distance. Woods nuked DiMarco on the first playoff hole, hitting an 8-iron onto the 18th green to DiMarco's 5-iron. Woods won it with a birdie.