With his victories at Bay Hill and the Players Championship, Tiger
Woods drew the curtain on his "slump," an eight-tournament
winless streak that received almost as much attention as the
Clinton pardons and the stock market plunge. Now it's
whoop-de-doo, time to talk Grand Slam again. Las Vegas has put
the odds on his winning the Masters at 2 to 1. Ladbrokes of
London says it's 20 to 1 he'll win all four of this year's
majors--the Grand Slam.
Me, I'd be delighted to book both bets, and I'll wager even money
he doesn't win any major this year, not a single one. Do I hear
laughter in the background? Is someone phoning the paddy wagon to
come cart me away? Before it arrives, hear me out.
Let's start with history. Before last year Ben Hogan had been the
only player to win three majors in a single season. That was in
1953. Did he win the Masters the following year? No. U.S. Open?
No. British Open? No. PGA? No. Zero for four. As a matter of
fact, after his dazzling '53, old Ben never won another major.
O.K., O.K., I know what you're thinking. Hogan was indeed old at
the time, 41 to be precise. But what about Jack Nicklaus, the man
whose records Tiger is chasing? Nicklaus was only 27, in his
prime, when he won the '67 U.S. Open, his seventh major. Hard as
it is to imagine, he then struck out in the next 12 majors, the
equivalent of three years, before winning the British Open in
Arnold Palmer never won three majors in a single year, but he
came close in 1962 when he won the Masters and the British Open
and lost the U.S. Open in a playoff with Nicklaus. The next year?
So much for history. What possible things can happen to Woods
that would exclude him from winning a major? David Duval, who has
been hampered all year with an assortment of ills, could tell
you. At Pebble Beach in January, Woods did indeed hurt his left
knee when he stepped on the foot of an autograph hound. To
compensate for the apparent discomfort, he has adjusted the
positioning of his left foot at address, and this may explain
why, in spite of his recent victories, his driving continues to
Altering a golf swing, especially one that was purring like
Tiger's was last year, is as dicey as tuning a Stradivarius.
Example: No player was more promising 25 years ago than Jerry
Pate, winner of the 1976 U.S. Open at 23. In 1982 he won the
Players Championship (and took his famous dive into the water on
18), but not long afterward he tried to hack his ball out of a
bush. He ripped a muscle in his left shoulder, changed his swing
because of the injury, finally had surgery in '85 and never again
won a tournament. Just something for Tiger to keep in mind the
next time his ball is lodged between the roots of a tree.
It has been documented that Butch Harmon, Woods's coach, is as
valuable to Tiger as another Butch was to Sundance. At his best,
Woods plays with machinelike precision, but when the machine
shows the slightest sign of malfunctioning--approach shots long or
short are an occasional problem--Harmon comes running with his
tool kit. But suppose the chemistry between the two fizzles, as
it did with Nick Faldo and David Leadbetter. Could Tiger find a
However, my biggest reason for betting that Woods will not win a
major this year is luck, bad luck in his case. Suppose someone,
say that recent shooting star, Joe Durant, has another career
week, this time at the Masters? Woods got a taste of that in last
year's PGA, and to his credit he overcame it. Bob May, who has
never won a Tour event, almost stole the tournament. If Charles
Coody can win a Masters from under Nicklaus's nose, Durant can do
the same to Tiger. Of course there are the more serious
challengers. To win his 18 majors, Nicklaus had to fight off
Arnold, Gary, Lee and Tom, four players who helped account for
Jack's 19 second-place finishes in the Grand Slam events. Last
year Woods was light-years ahead of his own competition, but his
dry spell at the start of the year has clearly given heart to his
most serious challengers, Davis, Phil and Vijay, all of whom,
have flexed their muscles this season.
So when Vijay Singh slips the green jacket on good ol' Joe, just
remember, you read it here first.
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK
If Charles Coody can win a Masters from under Nicklaus's nose,
someone like Joe Durant can do the same to Tiger.