Tiger will be pretty good someday
It's all Michael Campbell's fault.
If you enjoy watching history, if you'd like to see one golfer accomplish something that has never been done before, well, just blame Campbell.
In three majors this year, Tiger Woods has faced 403 fellow competitors, but U.S. Open champion Campbell is the only man to defeat Woods for four rounds. Had it not been for Campbell, Tiger would be heading to Baltusrol in search of the first true Grand Slam in modern history.
Instead, we're just left to marvel at Woods' accomplishment at the British Open. As the Weekly 18 starts, this guy could have quite a future ahead of him.
There's been a lot of talk about young golfers these days. Fifteen-year-old Michelle Wie playing in PGA Tour events. Sean O'Hair, now 23, winning the John Deere Classic.
And let's not forget Woods, the 29-year-old kid who now owns 10 career major championship titles.
That's right -- the most dominant golfer in the world, the man who now owns sole possession of third place on the all-time major victory list, won't celebrate the big Three-O until Dec. 30. You can have Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott and Luke Donald -- the future of golf is Tiger Woods.
Consider this: Woods owns three more major victories than Jack Nicklaus -- the all-time leader with 18 -- did when he turned 30. And Woods still has one major to play before his birthday.
Jack won eight majors in the 1970s, when he was in his 30s for the entire decade. If Tiger matches that number, he'll be tied with Nicklaus when he turns 40.
But that won't happen. Woods won't need that long to catch -- and pass -- Nicklaus.
With a revamped swing that finally looks like it's taken ideal form, Tiger may just now be reaching his prime. Sure, he may never be Old Tiger, the guy who won by 15 strokes at Pebble Beach, but New Tiger has shown he's in this thing for the long haul.
Is Woods the greatest golfer ever? Nicklaus, Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones might have a gripe ... for now. But when we look back on Tiger's career in the year 2015, when he's the all-time leader in major victories, there won't be any question about it.
For as dominating as Tiger's performance was, his final score could have been a lot lower. In fact, Woods failed to cash in on perhaps his three best swings of the entire week. On the sixth hole, his approach hit the flagstick and caromed back down a steep slope, coming to rest about 30 feet from the hole. From there, he got up and down for par. On the seventh hole, Woods' second shot landed 10 feet left of the cup and spun right, missing the hole by a mere inches and stopping five feet away. He missed the birdie putt, however, and again wound up with par. On the par-3 eighth hole, Tiger knocked an 8-iron right at the hole -- missing it by less than a foot -- and saw his ball stop three feet above the cup. Again, he missed the birdie. With a little luck -- or a better putting stroke on those holes -- Woods could have finished 17 under for the tournament. With a lot of luck -- say, if those three remarkable shots had each found the bottom of the cup -- we might have witnessed the greatest streak of shot-making in major history.
Kudos to the folks at Nike for the most imaginative ad we've seen in a long time. In case you missed it (although we're not sure you could have, with as much play as it received in the British Open broadcast's commerical rotation), the spot shows a young Woods -- maybe five years old -- sticking shots all over the Old Course, with announcers talking about his game. It was the perfect precursor to the tournament itself, when 29-year-old Tiger seemed to mirror the actions of his mini self in the commercial, save for the dance after holing out a chip. The spot was set to "Ooh La La" by The Faces. Now if we could only get that tune out of our head. "I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger ..."
It seems every year is Colin Montgomerie's Last Chance to finally break through and win that elusive major championship. And yet, each year he comes back seemingly better than the last. In the '02 British Open, he shot 74-64-84-75 to finish in second-to-last place of all players to reach the weekend. The next year, he skipped the event due to a hand injury. Last year, at his home course of Royal Troon, Monty was three off the lead through two rounds, but finished 72-76 for a share of 25th place. This year he simply continued improving, beating everyone in the field except for Woods, who he's now lost to in 65 of the 66 events they've played together. While so many are quick to write off Montgomerie, saying he's past his prime and will never win the big one, don't be surprised to see him once again contending for a British title when it's held at Royal Liverpool next year.
What's gotten into Fred Couples? The man with a back so fragile sometimes it hurts him to get out of bed -- let alone play golf -- is a major player once again. Couples shot a final-round 68 to earn a back-door T-3 finish, his third top-40 ranking in three majors this year. Like most players, Couples has always held St. Andrews in the highest regard and it shows in his play there. In his previous British Open starts at the Old Course, he finished T-4 in 1984, T-25 in '90 and sixth in '00 (he didn't qualify for the tournament in '95). The share of third place is Couples' third top 10 in his last eight PGA Tour events. If he keeps up his current play -- and the always achy back stays healthy -- don't be surprised if the '03 Shell Houston Open winner finds himself holding another trophy before the season's over.
Maybe there's some secret in being a late entrant into the British Open field. The previous two champions, Todd Hamilton and Ben Curtis, only earned a spot into the field just before the event started. And this week, there were plenty of similar stories. Jose Maria Olazabal only got in when Seve Ballesteros receives declined his invitation; Ollie finished T-3. Bernhard Langer earned his way into the field only when Shingo Katayama withdrew on Monday; he finished T-5. Others, like John Deere winner O'Hair (T-15) and Monday qualifier Brad Faxon (T-23) also contended over the weekend. Add Pat Perez, Maarten Lafeber and Bart Bryant -- all of whom reached the weekend after also earning spots in recent weeks -- and maybe players will be begging not to make the field early in 2006.
Mark Hensby owned a couple of top-five finishes -- T-5 at The Masters and T-3 at the U.S. Open -- in the year's first two majors; he and Woods were the only players to accomplish that feat. And the Aussie seemed poised for another strong run in his first British Open after posting a first-round 5-under 67 to grab sole possession of second place. But Hensby's week was undone by St. Andrews' opening four holes, as he played them in a total of 9 over. (He played the other 14 holes in a combined 14 under.) He made triple-bogeys on the par-4 second and fourth holes in the second round and later doubled the first hole on the final day. Had he simply salvaged bogey on each of those holes, Hensby would have finished at 10 under, good for second place. Instead, he was five shots worse and placed T-15.
He beat Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson, yet the name Lloyd Saltman still makes us think of him as some 60-year-old accountant. Instead, Saltman, 19, is a flashy Scottish amateur in the Ian Poulter/Nick Dougherty mode of young players who like to show off a little style on the course. At St. Andrews, Saltman's game was pretty solid, too, as rounds of 73-71-68-71 gave him low amateur status and a T-15 finish for the week. A Walker Cup participant, he actually own the last contest to be held at the Old Course before the Open, taking the recent St. Andrews Links tournament.
Not sure if you heard this news, but a British Open champion is hanging it up for good after missing the cut at St. Andrews this week. No, not that Nicklaus guy -- we're talking about Tony Jacklin, who won the Claret Jug in 1969, one year before Nicklaus' first title at the Old Course. Jacklin, who recently turned 61, would have certainly received a greater sendoff had his goodbye not happened within hours of Nicklaus'. He shot 79-76 to miss the cut by 10 strokes.
It's no secret that professional golfers are some of the most honest athletes around, but David Toms furthered that case this week when he disqualified himself following Thursday's first round. It seems Toms was unsure whether his ball may have moved as he putted on the 17th hole that day. He didn't report anything -- and nothing was reported against him -- until the next day, when he spoke it over with R&A officials. Although video evidence was inconclusive, Toms decided that since he was unsure and didn't give himself a two-stroke penalty at the time, that he had signed an incorrect scorecard, so he disqualified himself from the event. Would this sort of action ever relate to other sports? Can you imagine a center fielder trapping a sinking liner, but the umpire calling it an out ... and seeing the player dispute the call that went in his favor? Golf is a unique sport, indeed.
Last year, Ian Poulter was the subject of many photographs while wearing his trousers made from a Union Jack flag. On Thursday, the flamboyant Brit topped that. Poulter wore violet slacks designed by a contest winner that featured a likeness of the Claret Jug on the left leg and a list of Open Championship winners on the right.
So, you like Poulter's sense of style, but aren't so sure you could pull it off yourself? You're not alone. But there is a way you can play St. Andrews sporting spiky blonde hair and crazy, bright-colored trousers -- virtually. That's because Poulter is one of four new players that will be included in the Tiger Woods PGA Tour '06 video game, along with other fan favorites Chris DiMarco, Mike Weir and Luke Donald. But perhaps the best new feature is the stable of additional courses that have been added, which include major championship venues Bethpage (Black), Sahalee and Pumpkin Ridge.
The British Open was just the first of three major championships to be hosted by the United Kingdom in coming weeks. The Senior British Open will take place this week at Royal Aberdeen (the Women's British follows one week later at Royal Birkdale) and we already have a few favorites picked out. Five-time British winner Tom Watson finished T-41 at St. Andrews and two-time winner Greg Norman, who will make his senior debut this week, was T-60. That said, this is annually a tough tournament to predict. Last year, career club pro Pete Oakley earned his first career title, beating Tom Kite at Royal Portrush.
The Cal Ripken, Jr. of the Champions Tour will see his streak continue at the Senior British. Dana Quigley, who has played in 278 consecutive senior events, contemplated skipping the event due to a injured hip that he thought might flare up during the long plane ride to Scotland. "The only time I feel pain on the golf course is when I go to pick a ball out of the hole or read a putt," Quigley said this week. "Off the course, it's pretty uncomfortable when I sit down for an extended period of time, but the level of discomfort is a lot less this week than it was last week. No medical person I've talked to has told me to rest."
Though many consider it a surprise that Michelle Wie made it through two rounds of stroke play and three rounds of match play at the U.S. Amateur Pub Links Championship, the real shocker was that she actually lost her quarterfinal match against BYU rising junior Clay Ogden, 5 and 4. Wie is, arguably, one of the top 10 female golfers in the world. Ogden? He barely cracks the top 10 on his own college roster. This past season, Ogden competed in only six tournaments, with a top finish of T-28 at the Cougar Classic, but he remained hot after beating Wie, winning again Friday afternoon and coming from behind against UNC's Martin Ureta to claim the title and a probable spot in next year's Masters Tournament.
The U.S. Junior Amateur will take place this week in Longmeadow, Mass., and they are a few familiar names in the field. Kevin Tway and Shaun O'Meara, the 16- and 15-year-old sons of PGA Tour veterans Bob and Mark, respectively, will be among the players hoping to join a past champions list that includes Johnny Miller, David Duval and Tiger Woods (three times). One name to look out for might not be a famous one ... yet. Sam Saunders is the grandson of Arnold Palmer and, according to the King, hits the ball a lot father than his grandfather ever did. Saunders also has the experience of having caddied for Palmer at Augusta National during The Masters.
Considering the Clemson golf team owned top-10 finishes in every NCAA Championship from 1997-2003 -- including a title in the last year of that run -- it's no surprise that there are several former Tigers playing well on the PGA Tour these days. Among the key components of those squads were two-time tour winner Jonathan Byrd, Lucas Glover, D.J. Trahan and Charles Warren, but this week another name surfaced in a big event. Matt Hendrix, an '04 graduate, made eight birdies and two eagles -- after a first-hole double-bogey, no less -- to shoot 63 and claim the first-round lead at the B.C. Open. Hendrix, playing in the tournament on a sponsor's exemption, had only played in three previous tour events -- all last year -- earning $6,750 at the B.C. and missing the cut in the other two.
"I'm not into the dinners, man. You can't get a coat and a tie on this fat boy."
-- 1995 British Open winner John Daly, explaining why he didn't attend the champions dinner at St. Andrews.
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com
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