The German word for Tiger is, well, Tiger, and for three days at
the Deutsche Bank-SAP Open, it seemed that no matter the
language, no matter the golf ball, no matter the continent,
Tiger Woods is Tiger Woods. After a bogey-free 67 last Saturday,
Woods, the defending champ, led the field by two shots. The last
13 times Woods has led after three rounds, he has led after
four. "Tiger is the man to beat," said Darren Clarke, who upset
Woods in the final of the World Match Play earlier this year.
"He can fly bunkers the rest of us mere mortals can't."
Then came a reminder that no matter the evidence, Woods is only
human. It also happened that the best players on the European
tour reacted to his presence atop the leader board as if the
Ryder Cup had begun 16 months early. "There was a feeling that we
didn't want the Americans coming over here and us being rolled
over," said England's Lee Westwood. "It's nice to show that there
are an awful lot of good players here and that people can't come
over and beat us on our own field."
Colin Montgomerie, the best player in Europe, parred the 1st hole
on Sunday and then birdied three straight. Jean Van de Velde
birdied four of his first six holes. Westwood, playing in the
threesome ahead of Woods, birdied his first three and rarely
slowed down on his way to a 64 and a final score of 15-under 273,
three shots ahead of second-place finisher Emanuele Canonica of
Italy. Woods shot a 70 to finish four back in third with Van de
Velde and Ian Woosnam.
Woods, the world's top-ranked player, came apart from the middle
of the fairway on the par-4 11th hole. He hit a seven-iron
approach dead right, and his ball kicked off a mound and into a
pond. On a day when birdies were cheap, the resulting double
bogey cost plenty. "I was trying to put it 10 feet left of the
hole, but I hit a bad shot at the wrong time," Woods said.
The tournament was the European version of the Players
Championship and had a $2.4 million purse, the largest on the
European tour after the British Open, to prove it. Any
resemblance, though, between a major championship site and the
Gut Kaden Golf and Land Club in Alveslohe, a suburb 20 miles
north of Hamburg, began and ended with the fact that each have
18 holes. "It's a shame to have the best player in the world
over here and have him see it," said Montgomerie.
But Woods came, partially because he won this event in Heidelberg
last year, and mostly because the tournament paid him the biggest
appearance fee ever in pro golf--more than the $1 million he
received last year. After nearly storming into the playoff at the
Byron Nelson Classic the week before with a final-round 63, Woods
spent a day at home in Orlando before he, girlfriend Joanna
Jagoda, agent Mark Steinberg and caddie Steve Williams flew in
Woods's leased jet to Hamburg. Before their departure Woods
phoned Wally Uihlein, the president and CEO of the Acushnet
Company, to inform him that he would be setting aside the
Titleist Professional 90 he has used since turning pro and trying
the Nike Tour Accuracy ball in Germany. Woods has been an Iron
Byron of sorts for Nike over the last few months. The company
would send a prototype of the ball to Orlando. Woods would test
it, tell Nike what he thought, and a few weeks later he would
receive the next version. Woods deemed the prototype he tested in
Orlando the week before the Nelson good enough to try in a
tournament. "The feel of it is very similar to what I've been
accustomed to," Woods said after his opening 70. "It flies a
little different in the wind. I don't know how to explain it."
Steinberg says the contract Woods and Titleist renegotiated last
fall allows Woods to play another ball. "He's testing it the only
way he can test it," Steinberg says. "I don't know if [Woods will
switch balls] this week, in two weeks, in two months, in two
years." Montgomerie joined Woods in the testing business at Gut
Kaden, albeit with less success. Montgomerie used the Callaway
ERC driver, one of the hot drivers banned by the USGA, for the
first time in the opening round but hit only one fairway on the
front side and shot a 73. That was the end of the ERC. He rallied
with his regular Callaway driver to finish tied for sixth at 10
Woods and Montgomerie also tested a new form of competition on
Thursday night. They were among a nine-man field in a
roof-to-roof par-3 competition in downtown Hamburg. From a small
mat on the roof of a five-story sporting goods store, the
players hit to an artificial green atop a parking garage about
120 yards across the four-lane Monckebergstrasse. Each player
got three shots, with the closest to the pin winning 10,000
deutsche marks ($4,618) to be donated to a local youth charity.
It is safe to say that nobody took the event too seriously.
Westwood made several attempts to set off his cell phone during
someone's backswing. "I failed miserably," he said. When a shot
by Sergio Garcia landed short of the green, Woods began
chanting, somewhat cryptically, "Throw a shoe! Throw a shoe!" As
Montgomerie stepped up to his ball, Woods inquired, "ERC wedge?"
True to his nature, though, Tiger stopped joking long enough to
finish first. Woods's second shot wound up 3' 3 1/2" from the
pin, edging Jesper Parnevik, who quieted the other pros by
announcing that he would hit a bump-and-run shot and skidded his
ball off the concrete apron in front of the green to within
eight inches of Woods's shot.
Woods stayed in the Atlantic Hotel downtown. From their suite he
and Jagoda watched a marathon fireworks show over Lake Alster on
Friday night to celebrate the city's annual cherry blossom
festival. Woods was also given the keys to a Maserati for the
week. Let's see: seven figures, posh hotel, sports car.... "I
love Germany," Woods said. "The tournament has been wonderful.
I'd like to come back, if they invite me."
Westwood, like Woods, has achieved a great deal of success at a
young age. This victory, less than a month after he turned 27,
was his 10th in Europe. He has also won four other tournaments
around the world, including the Tour stop in New Orleans in 1998.
Yet Westwood arrived in Hamburg in the worst slump of his career.
He missed the cut at the Masters and two weeks ago, after a 76 in
the third round of the Benson and Hedges at the Belfry, declared
he was "mystified and depressed."
Instead of remaining in a funk, however, Westwood heeded the
advice of David Leadbetter, the Orlando-based teacher who spent
several days at the tournament and urged him to play with a smile
on his face. Paired with Woods for the first two rounds, a
determinedly upbeat Westwood matched him shot for shot at four
under. On Sunday he routed Woods and everyone else. Is Westwood
ready to take on Woods every week? "I have no intention of going
to America to play full time," Westwood said. He quickly added,
"and I don't think he has any intention of coming here."
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY BOB MARTIN
COLOR PHOTO: MATTHEW HARRIS High stakes Woods raised the roof in winning a closest-to-the-pin contest.
"There was a feeling that we didn't want the Americans coming
over here and us being rolled over," said Westwood.