Woods, Nicklaus Win Bighorn Battle

Tuesday, July 30th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PALM DESERT, Calif. (AP) _ They should have called this the Battle of Birdies.

Tiger Woods poured in birdie putts on his first three holes before he could even get warmed up in 107-degree heat.

By the time the Battle at Bighorn ended under the lights Monday, Woods made nine birdies in 16 holes and carried Jack Nicklaus to a 3 and 2 victory over Sergio Garcia and Lee Trevino in a best-ball match between two generation of stars.

One of them shone the brightest.

``I had a great partner,'' Nicklaus said.

The Golden Bear was hardly a hack, even though he had to bend over and grab his calves to keep his ailing back from tightening. Nicklaus mustered enough strength to a hit a signature shot _ a 7-iron that knocked down the flag for a tap-in birdie at No. 9.

``Jack loves to knock it stiff when he's got all the people watching,'' Trevino said.

A national TV audience watching in prime time saw Woods at his best, a far cry from the 81 he had in the third round of the British Open that ended hopes of a Grand Slam.

The two 62-year-old partners watched a different game.

That was evident early.

Trevino stopped talking just long enough to send his driver down the middle of the fourth fairway, a good 10 yards ahead of Nicklaus.

One problem.

Garcia was 40 yards past him. Woods was another 23 yards beyond Garcia.

``How come your balls get all the roll?'' Trevino cracked.

The only consolation for Trevino came late in the match when he went with his driver off the tee, while Woods selected a 2-iron.

``I told Tiger he could not hit that 2-iron past my driver,'' Trevino said. ``And I got him, too _ by 6 yards.''

More evidence came on the 202-yard eighth hole.

Nicklaus hit first, rifling a 2-iron that landed 12 feet past the hole. Woods followed with a 5-iron that hopped and rolled within 10 inches of the cup. He caught Nicklaus staring at his club selection with amazement.

``I took a little off it,'' Woods shrugged.

This was nothing new for Nicklaus. He last played with Woods two years ago in the first two rounds of the PGA Championship, where Woods opened with rounds of 66-67 and went on to win in a playoff for his third of four consecutive majors.

``I know now that I have no business playing on the regular tour,'' Nicklaus said. ``If you see the way Tiger and Sergio play, there's no such thing as a par 5 anymore. The course is four shots longer for us.

``I might have contributed a birdie or two,'' Nicklaus said, turning to Woods. ``But you were great.''

Nicklaus did contribute two birdies _ on both of them, Woods had putts of 8 and 10 feet that, if he had made them, would have made his round that much more spectacular.

Even Woods conceded his play was stellar.

``I broke 80, didn't I?'' he said, something he couldn't say at Muirfield after an 81 in the raging wind and rain that zapped his hopes of the calendar Grand Slam.

The only element Monday was the heat _ and Trevino's constant chatter.

``All you have to do is shut up and listen,'' Woods said after the eighth hole.

Woods spoke volumes with his clubs.

He got off to a blazing start by hitting his approach to 6 feet for birdie on the first hole, then making a 15-footer for birdie on No. 2.

``If he keeps doing that, there's no sense putting the lights up,'' Trevino said to Garcia.

Trevino must have wanted to see those lights because he answered with birdie putts of 10 and 15 feet on the next two holes to square the match, and Garcia got in on the act with a 12-foot birdie putt on the par-3 sixth hole for a 1-up lead.

That was fleeting.

Woods and Nicklaus won the next four holes, leading to the earliest end in the four years of these made-for-TV exhibitions.

This was a stark contrast from last year's episode of the Battle at Bighorn, when Woods and Annika Sorenstam played David Duval and Karrie Webb in ridiculously hard conditions and a boring format _ alternate-shot _ that was doomed for failure.

This version made for good TV _ especially with the Merry Mex jabbering away _ and good golf. The only hole that ended without a birdie was the last one, when Woods rapped in a 3-foot par putt to close the match.

``I've never seen anything like it,'' Woods said. ``You had to make birdie to win the hole. That was incredible.''