Monday, July 18, 2005

Money In The Bank: Indelible Images Of Woods, Nicklaus Left At St. Andrews

Poor Tiger. The closer he tries to get to Jack Nicklaus, the further Nicklaus moves away. The week Tiger notched his 10th career major championship - moving to within eight of Nicklaus' record total - the Royal Bank of Scotland unveiled some new Jack, specifically a series of five-pound notes stamped with the upper torso of Jack Nicklaus clutching the Claret Jug.

It's even money whether or not Woods will make or break 18. But the odds are against ever seeing a paper Tiger. Before Nicklaus, only royalty had graced Scottish currency.

It is on paper, of course, that Tiger has been the favorite at each Grand Slam event since he won the Masters by 12 in 1997. And now, for the second time in his career - with a second swing, no less - he's racking up the biggies in bunches. A five-shot victory at The Old Course gives Tiger two of three majors this year. The last time he took two out of three, it was merely the beginning of a stretch in which he won seven of 11.

That streak had both close calls and blowouts, and so does this one. Tiger coughed up a two-up-with-two-to-play lead in April at Augusta before DiFeating DiMarco in extras. At the 134th Open Championship, Tiger went wire-to-wire. But while opening rounds of 66-67 put him atop page one of the leaderboard Friday afternoon, he was nearly relegated to the agate type of the world's sports pages Saturday morning. Nicklaus missed the cut in his final major championship appearance but found himself in the lead of every story with a St. Andrews dateline.

That scene of 50,000 fans at the birthplace of golf saying goodbye to the player Tiger called "the greatest champion in the history of the sport" proved how unique this game is. Remember the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in 1999 when they wheeled Ted Williams out to the pitcher's mound at Fenway Park to shake hands with some of that season's best players? It was an amazing moment, but Nicklaus playing The Old Course would be like Teddy Ballgame or Willie Mays or Reggie Jackson - 20, 30, 40 years past their playing days - stepping into the batter's box against Randy Johnson in his prime. It couldn't happen in any other sport.

Jack didn't just show up at St. Andrews, he played well enough to threaten the weekend. Needing a birdie-birdie finish Friday, Nicklaus instead bogeyed the famed Road Hole, and the final weepy walk up and over the sacred Swilcan Bridge was on, two days earlier than he'd hoped. Not one for long goodbyes, Nicklaus went ahead and birdied 18 for posterity, then walked off major championship soil for the last time. He said there was a small part of him that was glad to get it over with so the fans wouldn't have to come back out and cheer him on again Sunday. That makes one of him. You think any golf fan anywhere wouldn't love the opportunity to applaud the one they first called Fat Jack? Fat chance.

Sorriest to see Nicklaus go must surely be his heir apparent. Having already achieved the Tiger Slam by winning four straight majors from the 2000 U.S. Open through the '01 Masters, Woods accomplished the Grand Finale Slam Sunday: he won in Jack's final appearance in each of the four major championships.

Like the Golden Bear, Tiger's now won twice at St. Andrews. In pleasant conditions, The Old Course really isn't much of a test for Tiger, as evidenced by his 11 under par total through two tame rounds. When the winds kicked up for the next round and a half, the best player in the world - and to think we doubted - proved that defense wins championships in golf, too. Playing it safe, Tiger hit only one really bad shot over the final two days - his tee ball into the gorse Saturday on 6 - in rounds of 71-70, which turned back his Ryder Cup rivals, Colin Montgomerie and Jose-Maria Olazabal, each of whom crept to within one at various points over the weekend before fading on the back nine Sunday.

The golf cognoscenti will wonder why no one made Tiger work harder when it counted, which is merely one of three responses to any tournament he has a chance to win. That's what they say when he wins big. When someone does push him to the limit, as DiMarco did at Augusta, the media says he couldn't put the guy away. And when someone actually gets the better of him, like Michael Campbell at Pinehurst, the first finger is pointed not at the winner but at Tiger's inability to seal the deal.

Meanwhile, Tiger's piling up majors and laughing all the way to the bank where - in Scotland, at least - he needs look no further than that five-pound note to remind himself what kind of investment it will take to be the best ever. And in return, you can bet that account will interest Bear.


Unknown said...

..............why don't you have your own syndicated talk show yet? Pure genious, Grant!

Lovell's Lookout said...

Boone- I enjoyed the past open more than I have since I can remember. Beside the leaderboard being filled with actual golfers the fill in conversation was actually legitimately interesting and not forced drama. I even found myself pulling a "little" for Monty. The cherry on top was thinking.."I wonder what Grant wrote about it.." your golf writing ranks with Jenkins and Reilly... I amen Doggett's comment. You could open your show with Star Wars imitations...
I am reading a great golf story called "Billy Boy" by Bud Shrake(I think thats his name-- co-wrote Penicks little red book... a must read... Peace out...

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