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Tiger Ready For British Open

Tiger Woods played what he called a "Whiskey Nine," moving from the first hole to the final three at Carnoustie Golf Links Tuesday before cutting short his practice round for the Open.

His game has never been better, obvious by the smile that appears almost as readily as clouds gather off the North Sea. His record offers even more evidence. He has won three of his last four tournaments and reclaimed his spot at No. 1 in the world rankings.

The exception was the U.S. Open, where Woods put on a dazzling display in the final round only to miss two short par putts on the back nine at Pinehurst No. 2 that ultimately left him two strokes behind Payne Stewart.

Major championships, the benchmark of greatness, are what matter the most to Woods.

He has only one to date, the 1997 Masters in which he so thoroughly dominated Augusta National that everyone stopped snickering about Jack Nicklaus' prediction that Woods might win 10 green jackets before he was finished.

Nine majors have now come and gone without Woods' name inscribed on the trophy.

Woods, with his teacher Butch Harmon, is happy with his game.>
Woods, with his teacher Butch Harmon, is happy with his game. (AP)

"Am I getting impatient? No," Woods said Tuesday. "It's just whenever it happens, it happens. You can't force the situation."

If there is a sense of urgency that Woods must win this British Open, it comes not from his heart but from history.

Yes, he is only 23.

True, he will only get better.

No one can doubt that Woods is giving himself ample chances to win, such as the Open last year and the U.S. Open last month.

Still, history suggests that players who win the lion's share of major championships do not take this long to win their second major. The 17 players with at least five majors won their second major in no more than seven attempts after the first one.

Almost all of them were able to take something away from winning their first major, mostly the experience of withstanding the most intense pressure in golf. Nicklaus and Tom Watson each won his first major in an 18-hole playoff. Nick Faldo won his first major with 18 pars in the final round at Muirfield for a one-stroke victory.

Watson failed miserably in his first few brushes with greatness. He had a 79 in the final round of the 1974 U.S. Oen and lost by five, and he had a 78-77 on the weekend after leading the U.S. Open through two rounds in 1975.

After Carnoustie, he had the final-round lead in eight more majors and won six of them.

Payne Stewart might not have won his first major in the 1989 PGA Championship had Mike Reid not collapsed on the final holes. Still, Stewart made four birdies down the stretch for a 67 to win by one stroke.

"Winning the PGA made it easier at Hazeltine," Stewart said, referring to his 18-hole playoff victory over Scott Simpson in the 1991 U.S. Open. "I was certainly more comfortable in that position."

That begs the question: What could Woods possibly have gained from his first major?

The only pressure he faced was whether he would eclipse the scoring record set by Nicklaus. Woods took an eight-stroke lead into the final round and won by 12 strokes, a record margin in the Masters and the widest in the majors this century.

To compare Woods' mission to the likes of Nicklaus, Watson, Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and even Faldo requires at least one footnote. The depth of talent has never been this great. Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Player combined to win 18 majors during one 10-year stretch. Golf will never see such dominance again.

All Woods can do is keep giving himself chances, which is exactly what he is doing.

"If you do it, it will happen. You will have your time to have it happen," Woods said. "This year, it was Payne's turn to take the U.S. Open by making those great putts. It all boils down to a bit of luck, too. You need to get a few good breaks at the right time and then see what happens."

Woods has been under the gun on the back nine in a major twice in the past year. He finished birdie-birdie at Royal Birkdale last year, but missed the playoff by one stroke. He was within one stroke of the lead with two holes to play at Pinehurst until a bogey on the 17th.

Maybe he'll find himself in a dogfight Sunday at Carnoustie with David Duval or Ernie Els or Vijay Singh, and get that putt to fall for his second major championship.

And then maybe Woods won't have to wait so long for the next one.

©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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