Can Tiger Be Tamed?

Article excerpt

Despite his talents, tougher courses and hot-shot players will test the Woods juggernaut.

Tiger Woods is creating a jaded breed of golf fans. Since Woods added an outrageous fourth consecutive major to his collection at the 65th Masters, followers of the sport have repeated variations on a theme concerning the state of the game under Tiger's reign.

"I don't even know why they play the majors anymore, since Tiger is just going to win them all," they complain. Or, "Who's going to give Tiger any competition? At least Jack Nicklaus had Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Johnny Miller and Tom Watson. The guys today just don't seem to have what it takes."

Both are specious statements that shortchange Woods and his challengers. When Nick Faldo won his sixth major at the 1996 Masters, he was asked to assess the difficulty of a Grand Slam -- winning all four majors in one season. "I'd say it would be marginally more difficult than ascending Everest in bare feet," Faldo said.

But Woods has changed that perception. "Before Tiger, we all thought winning four straight was virtually impossible," said two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal before the last tournament. "But with Tiger, it seems not only possible, but probable. There's no perspective at all anymore."

That's the downside of Woods' unparalleled gift: His incomparable mix of talent, fire and focus has led to a total suspension of disbelief. The world has come to expect, rather than marvel at, his epic achievements. Most folks not only assume Woods will extend his majors streak in the U.S. Open at Southern Hills this June, but also flirt with a natural Slam (winning all four majors in the same calendar year) this season.

Absurd. Stop and enjoy the current quartet, because you are unlikely to ever see anyone win four straight majors again. After all, think of the courses on which Woods made his run -- Pebble Beach, St. Andrew's, Valhalla and Augusta National. Obviously, Augusta National is an annual staple. But how long will Woods have to wait for back-to-back U.S. and British Open courses that suit his game so well?

"Never, unless they play Pebble and the Old Course in the same year again," said Faldo at the Masters. "That's not taking anything away from Tiger, but [Pebble Beach and St. Andrew's] are the two courses in both Open rotations that fit his game perfectly. The stars might never line up like that for him again."

And the game's top secondary stars finally are starting to line up against him. Despite the criticism both have endured for their back-nine fades, Phil Mickelson and David Duval served notice to Woods at Augusta National.

After Woods, the two players on tour 30 or younger with the most victories are Mickelson (18) and Duval (12). …