With his latest dominating performance of a major championship layout no one else can handle, Tiger Woods serves notice: the Grand Slam race is officially on
He brought a bottle of water and that hilariously large U.S. Open trophy into the tiny, second-floor office of a woman named Frances Cheshire, a secretary at Bethpage State Park. With ESPN's "Sunday Conversation" behind him, his post-victory news conference still ahead, Tiger Woods took a few minutes to sign some flags, then sat in Fran's beaten old chair and surveyed her humbly decorated workspace.
Some pictures of the kids. A drawing of some cats. A stack of manila folders. No doubt about it, there is little chance of a desk job in his future. "Is that what it is?" Woods said, perhaps feigning surprise when told he'd picked up three years on Jack Nicklaus in the last hour. "That's not bad. Not bad at all."
They called this the People's Open, a national championship for the masses, a golf tournament for T-shirts instead of teacups. A terrific concept indeed, one in which a six-year blueprint played out to resounding success last weekend on the most principal municipal in the land. But this common-man theme? Come on.
Tiger Woods is not your average human. Even his brushes with the real world produce something extraordinary, the 102nd edition of this championship serving as the latest and most vivid example. Navigating Bethpage's murderous Black Course without a double bogey all week, Woods beat Phil Mickelson by three strokes to notch his seventh major triumph in his last 11 starts. It was his eighth major overall, from which we can deduce that he's not your average Bear, either.
Nicklaus needed 35 starts to win his eighth major—the 1970 British Open. Woods has done it in a mere 22 appearances, but perhaps more significantly, his pursuit of a Grand Slam is about to become the sports story of the summer. "I think the buildup to [next month's British Open] will certainly be a lot easier than what I had to deal with going into Augusta in 2001," he said, making it perfectly clear that he considers his four consecutive majors no less an accomplishment. "Going seven months and dealing with that question at every single tournament I played in—this time the majors are in back-to-back months. I certainly think it will be a lot easier in that respect."
Not that anything comes to him on an oversized platter of stress. At three under, Woods was the only player to finish below par on Bethpage Black, a venue that received glowing reviews as a design but was trashed mercilessly—and thus victimized—by the worst USGA setup since the 1998 debacle at Olympic. "A guy who hits it 265 yards right down the middle? No chance," said Ernie Els. "This is a great golf course, one of the best to ever host a U.S. Open, but what they did to it is horrible."
In an effort to preserve competitive integrity on its first visit to a public facility, it's easy to see why the Bluecoats overdosed on themselves. There was no way championship director Tom Meeks was going to let anybody shoot 15 under on the muny, so some illogical decisions were made. The dumbest? Leaving the tees back at the tips for Friday's second round, which had been forecast as cold and rainy and—imagine that—turned out cold and rainy.
About half the field couldn't carry their drives 244 yards over the waist-high fescue. Meeks reiterated that he'll never let weather dictate a course setup, which makes almost as much sense as hiring a Rottweiler to babysit your 2-year-old daughter. "It was long before [Friday]," said John Cook, who missed the cut by a stroke, "but not to the point where anybody was eliminated. Today, they eliminated all but about 20 guys."