Chasing History, Woods Relives Some

Wednesday, July 19th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland (AP) — The day before Tiger Woods set out to make history in the British Open, he decided to relive some.

During his final practice round Wednesday, Woods hit his drive to the front edge of the green on the 352-yard ninth hole. Coach Butch Harmon then jokingly gave him a replica of the gutta-percha ball used a century ago.

Woods hit that one 113 yards shorter. He selected a 5-iron to cover the 120 yards remaining to the flag, which proved to be too much club.

Still, for those dreaming up ways to handicap the No. 1 player in the world, consider this: Woods still made par.

Old Tom Morris used the gutta percha — a brown, molded rubber ball with score lines across the surface — to win the 1862 British Open by 13 strokes, a record that Woods broke last month in the U.S. Open with his 15-stroke victory at Pebble Beach.

But that's not the kind of history Woods has in mind at the birthplace of golf.

When the game's oldest championship begins Thursday, Woods will attempt to become only the fifth player — and at 24, the youngest — to win the career Grand Slam. The last player to win all four majors was Jack Nicklaus in 1966.

``He's always been motivated to be the best,'' Harmon said. ``He wants to be the greatest player the planet has ever seen. His desire is unlike anything anyone has seen. And he's the most gifted player the game has ever seen.''

Woods will try to complete the Grand Slam on a course unlike any other in the world.

St. Andrews is not manicured like Augusta National. The best shots are not always rewarded on an Old Course with humps and bumps, hidden pot bunkers and vast bunkers that can hide a family of four.

Instead of trees, it features ball-gobbling gorse and knee-high heather. It requires utmost skill and metes out luck at its discretion.

``The ball will hit the odd upslope or downslope or kick off or whatever,'' Colin Montgomerie of Scotland said. ``The winner will have had a little time in his round, especially the last day, where either he has got fortunate or his opponents have had bad fortune.

``They wanted a true links test in the year 2000. They certainly have it.''

Wind is not expected to be a big factor this week, but St. Andrews has other obstacles to overcome.

The course is very firm because of a recent hot spell. When Fred Couples took his place on the practice range, he said the turf reminded him of a bowling alley.

``The fairways are so fast you can't get away with any misses,'' said Woods, who's not the only one hitting the ball a long way this week.

On the 314-yard 12th hole, Woods reached the green with his driver. So did Mark O'Meara and Mark Calcavecchia.

The key is to hit it in the right place, and avoid some bunkers that are almost impossible to get out of in one shot.

Hal Sutton was so mystified about St. Andrews and its hidden hazards that he walked the Old Course without his clubs, just to get an idea of where to aim. There are other differences that make this a challenge like no other major.

``American players come over with a lob wedge in your bag, and the lob wedge does you very little good on this golf course,'' Sutton said. ``The second thing we rely on is yardage books, and yardage books don't do you a lot of good here, either.

``It's going to take a game with a lot of feel, a lot of imagination.''

And it's going to take a lot to keep Woods from extending a remarkable stretch of dominance in golf.

He has won two of the last three majors and 14 of his last 26 tournaments around the world. He already has won 20 times in less than five years as a professional. And he keeps getting better.

How much better?

``Better than he was before Pebble Beach,'' Harmon said.

Still, Woods must play four rounds of fickle St. Andrews. And while his peers have applauded his performance, they are not willing to hand him the claret jug until he earns it.

``Tiger is going to be a favorite anywhere he goes because he's No. 1. But every week is a new week,'' Jesper Parnevik said. ``I've done very well in the British Open. Of course, Tiger wants his last leg of the majors, and I'm just as determined to stop him. I'm sure a lot of other guys are, too.''

Gary Player, one of the four men to have won the career Grand Slam, said Woods has dominated golf more than any other player. He sees no weakness. He would be thrilled to welcome him to a club made up only of Player, Nicklaus, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen.

His pick for the week?

``I think Ernie Els is going to win the tournament,'' Player said.

Sutton, Parnevik, Phil Mickelson and Notah Begay are among the multiple winners on the PGA Tour who clearly have the kind of game to match Woods on any given week. Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood on the European tour have each won a tournament this year by beating Woods.

He is not unbeatable.

``He's not the only one who knows how to make birdies on the golf course,'' said 20-year-old Sergio Garcia, who nearly beat Woods in the PGA Championship last August. ``You just have to focus on your game, play well, try to make as many birdies as you can. If you can finish on top of him, perfect.

``If not, what are you going to do? Congratulate him.''