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Open Secret Who's the favorite for Pebble? Everyone knew after Tiger Woods's crushing victory at the Memorial

Muirfield Village Golf Club is one of the game's most
challenging tests and the masterpiece of Jack Nicklaus's career
as a course designer, yet last week the place was turned into a
well-manicured executive course. The Memorial is one of the
classiest events on the PGA Tour and always has a glossy field,
yet last week the tournament became an uncompetitive rout. Tiger
Woods can do those sorts of things. Only Woods can make big-time
courses, tournaments and opponents seem small.

This shouldn't come as news, but Woods remains the king of golf.
Long live the king. Only five minutes ago, some of us weren't so
sure. After that stirring run at the start of the season, when he
extended his winning streak to six, he began to look--sorry, Your
Highness--human. He had chances to win the Buick Invitational, the
Nissan Open and the World Match Play but didn't. Oh, he won at
Bay Hill, miniaturizing Davis Love III in the process, but then
Hal Sutton outplayed Woods at the Players Championship, he
stumbled at the Masters again, and he coughed up a two-shot lead
to Lee Westwood in Germany. Ach du lieber!

Silly us. Just as we started to think that, hey, maybe Woods
isn't as solid as a Zurich bank, that maybe someone like Sutton,
David Duval, Phil Mickelson, Colin Montgomerie, Jesper Parnevik
or Vijay Singh would be a better bet in the upcoming U.S. Open at
Pebble Beach, Woods sent us a little reminder. He played 29 holes
at mighty Muirfield--from the 5th hole last Friday through the
15th on Saturday--in 17 under par. That stretch constituted the
heart of his rounds of 63 and 65, leaving him 17 under after 54
holes and sitting on a six-shot lead. After waiting out a day of
rain, Woods finished the job on Monday, shooting a 70 for a
19-under 269 to beat Ernie Els and Justin Leonard by five
strokes. The Memorial was his 12th Tour win in 15 months and the
19th of his four-year career. "He absolutely murdered the golf
course," said tournament host Nicklaus. "That's unbelievable. He
amazes me."

Duh, Jack. This is Tiger Woods. This is what he does. "The
amazement has kind of gone away," said Justin Leonard, who
trailed Woods by seven shots going into the rain-delayed final
round despite a 66, highlighted by a hole in one, on Saturday.
"On a week like this on a course that suits him, you come to
expect it. Certainly, players appreciate what he's doing, but
we're not as surprised as we would have been two or three years
ago. It's fun to watch. It's not fun to play against."

The only one not impressed with Woods's 63 was the guy who shot
it, which says all you need to know about his standards. To Greg
Chalmers of Australia, who played with Woods, "It was like he
always had the perfect shot for the hole and total control of the
ball." Tiger thought that the round was fortune-filled and that
he neither struck the ball particularly well nor directed it
exactly where he had intended. As he came off the course, he told
his swing coach, Butch Harmon, "Meet me on the range. We've got
work to do."

Never mind that he had birdied three of the par-5s or that he had
stiffed iron shots for tap-in birdies on the last two holes.
Woods didn't feel that his swing was right, so he and Harmon
spent 45 minutes on the range, 10 minutes fixing the alleged
problem and the rest of the time making sure that the fix took
hold. The next day, striking the ball much better, thank you, he
shot the 65.

Here we are in June, and we're asking the same question we posed
in February. Can anyone beat this guy, especially at Pebble
Beach, where Woods has already won this year? "On a given week,
yes. But on a consistent basis, there's nobody," says Paul
Goydos. "Tiger is dominant at everything. People mention Brad
Faxon or Jim Furyk when they talk about the best putter on Tour.
Tiger is as good or better than they are. Guys mention Justin
Leonard as the best chipper. Tiger is a better chipper. People
talk about David Duval and Greg Norman driving the ball long and
straight. Tiger is longer and straighter. He is overwhelming the
game right now."

For a moment this spring, the promise of parity seemed to be in
the air. First it was Sutton taking Woods down a peg in their
head-to-head duel at the Players. Two weeks later at Augusta,
where Woods is always a favorite (asked last week if he was
surprised that the Memorial was his first successful title
defense, he nodded his head. "I thought I would have done it in
'98 at this course in Georgia," he said coyly), Singh rose up to
win his second major. Since then Mickelson has won for the second
and third time this season, and Parnevik has added a second
title. Even Montgomerie has heated up, winning twice in the last
four weeks in Europe.

Any pretournament hype about a wide-open Open, though, was
effectively quashed by Woods at the Memorial. "When you show up
at a tournament and Tiger's there, you know he's the guy to
beat," says Steve Flesch, who also had a hole in one last week
and tied for fifth, nine shots behind Woods. "It's his power.
There are 15 or 20 guys who are going to reach most of the par-5s
in two. Tiger gets to every one. Whether it's working out or
working on your game, everyone on Tour is subconsciously
thinking, Somehow, I've got to get better."

To the fans, Woods has been an answer to a prayer. To the
players, he has been more like a curse. Remember back to the
vast wasteland that was the PGA Tour in the early '90s? Paul
Azinger fondly recalls those days. "The media talked about it
for years--no dominant player, no dominant player," he says.
"Greg Norman was as close as you were going to get. There was
outrage that no one could dominate the sport. It was sickening.
Now there's a dominant player. It wasn't but three years ago
that players were saying, 'The days when somebody is going to
kick butt and dominate are gone.' They've returned and with a
vengeance. Before you know it, everybody will be complaining
that there's only one guy to beat, and if Tiger's not there, why
even bother?"

As Woods showed with last week's mid-tournament checkup with
Harmon, he is not about to let up anytime soon, either. Says
Goydos, "All the other players are working as hard as they have
in their lives to keep up, which will just push Tiger even more."
Everyone's outlook has been altered. After his victory at the
Colonial, Mickelson said he was proud of his '96 season, when he
led the Tour with four wins, but after Woods piled up eight W's
last year, well, "The bar has been raised, and that's good."

Leonard was simply happy to have that bar within sight. His Ryder
Cup heroics notwithstanding, he feels he has been in a 10-month
slump. His last victory came in the '98 Players Championship, and
he hadn't contended all year. In fact, before tying for second at
the Memorial, his best finish this season had been a 15th in the
Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Leonard holed a five-iron shot at the
171-yard 8th hole on Saturday for his ace, but was more excited
about being on a leader board again. "I was asked if I'm
frustrated about being seven shots back," Leonard said after his
66. "This is the happiest I've been walking off the course in
months. I'm not going to let the fact that Tiger is running away
spoil that for me."

Leonard's troubles have been difficult to pinpoint, since a
different problem seemed to crop up every round, but they started
with the putter and worked their way through the rest of his bag,
not to mention his head, like a virus. "If I had been putting
great all along," said Leonard, "I would've been fine." Normally
one of the Tour's better putters, he had nose-dived to 150th in
the putting stats going into the Memorial.

His solution was not to overanalyze or overwork but to persevere.
His play last week was a big boost because Muirfield Village is a
home run hitter's park, and Leonard is a good 30 yards shorter
than Woods off the tee. "On courses like this one Tiger is very
hard to beat," Leonard said. "I can beat the guy on the right
kind of course when I'm playing well. Most of those courses
happen to be major championship venues. I'm sure he probably
thinks he's got a huge advantage over me all the time, but if I
look at it that way I'm never going to beat the guy. I saw him
fly the tree on number 10 with his drive the other day. I'm just
trying to get it to the tree. So do you think that's an

First-round leader Harrison Frazar, a boyhood friend of
Leonard's from Dallas, certainly felt inadequate when he was
paired with Woods on Saturday. Frazar began the round trailing
Woods by a stroke. After seven holes Frazar was six behind. The
killer came at the par-5 7th. Woods had a 238-yard shot from a
downhill lie and hit a three-iron that burned the cup, coming to
rest 20 feet away. He made the putt for eagle, then put a
seven-iron approach to within a foot for a birdie at the next
hole. "It's not that he was six under over six holes," said
Frazar, who had shot a 66 in tough, windy conditions in the
opening round. "It's how he did it. He hit shots I don't know if
any other human can hit." Frazar became completely unraveled on
the back nine, shooting a 43 to finish with a 78, prompting a
predictable DOWN GOES FRAZAR! headline in Sunday morning's
Columbus Dispatch.

Woods may be only 24, but he has long had a special relationship
with Nicklaus. Woods was still in high school when he first met
Nicklaus, at Los Angeles's Bel Air Country Club, where Nicklaus
was conducting a clinic. "I was a special guest and was supposed
to hit a few shots before he got started," Woods says. "I said,
'What do you want me to hit?' He said, 'A few warmups.' I said,
'I'm already loose.' He said, 'Hit a few five-irons.' So I hit a
few hooks and slices and then I bombed a few drives. Jack said,
'If you keep this up, you might have a future.'"

Jack was right. Woods has a future. Correction. He is the future,
and it's now.


COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG Leonard might have finally fought off the putting virus that has infected his entire game.

How They Really Stand

Which players are having monster years, and which are living off
past accomplishments? If your measuring stick is the World
Ranking, which is based on a two-year sliding scale, it's hard to
say. We asked the people who put together the ranking to rate the
pros based solely on points accrued in 2000, which puts a player
like David Duval and his season in a different light.


1. Tiger Woods
2. David Duval
3. Colin Montgomerie
4. Davis Love III
5. Phil Mickelson
6. Vijay Singh
7. Hal Sutton
8. Lee Westwood
9. Ernie Els
10. Jesper Parnevik
11. Nick Price
12. Tom Lehman
13. Jim Furyk
14. Darren Clarke
15. Sergio Garcia
16. Carlos Franco
17. Justin Leonard
18. Stewart Cink
19. Mark O'Meara
20. John Huston

2000 ONLY

1. Tiger Woods
2. Phil Mickelson
3. Jesper Parnevik
4. Hal Sutton
5. Davis Love III
6. Ernie Els
7. Vijay Singh
8. Tom Lehman
9. Colin Montgomerie
10. Stewart Cink
11. David Duval
12. Lee Westwood
13. Jim Furyk
14. Kirk Triplett
15. Darren Clarke
16. Carlos Franco
17. Robert Allenby
18. Nick Price
19. Shigeki Maruyama
20. Michael Campbell

"This is the happiest I've been in months," Leonard said. "I'm
not going to let the fact that Tiger is running away spoil that
for me."