On to Hazeltine
Tiger Woods tuned up for the PGA with a ho-hum victory at the
Tiger Woods never stops making history. Last week he became the
first PGA Tour player to announce on his website that nude
Internet photos of his Swedish girlfriend are inauthentic. With
a victory at the Buick Open, at Warwick Hills Country Club in
Grand Blanc, Mich., Woods also continued his pursuit of the
unprecedented Buick Slam--counting his win at the 1998 Buick
Invitational in San Diego, he is now halfway home. This week
Woods will be chasing another record, one that's slightly more
important: With a victory at the PGA Championship he will become
the first player to win three majors in a season more than once.
"After what I saw the last two days, I think everyone better
watch out," says Mark O'Meara, who was paired with Woods for the
first two rounds in Grand Blanc. Yes, it took exactly two weeks
for the buzz to die down on Ernie Els's supposedly tide-turning
British Open victory. The glum reality is that once again Woods
played exceedingly mediocre golf on the weekend yet still won
going away, this time by four strokes over one of the strongest
fields in Buick Open history. The keynote round was Friday's 63,
which featured some breathtaking ball striking, including what he
called "a nice, soft cut two-iron" from 266 yards over a grove of
trees to set up an eagle on the 15th hole.
Woods uncorked a series of loose swings on the weekend but
subdued the competition with masterly putting and brainy course
management. Even Woods's caddie, Steve Williams, had his game
face on. On Sunday he confronted a heckler by barking, "If you
don't shut your mouth, I'm going to come over there and shut it
As Woods storms into the PGA, the question is: Who can hope to
quiet him, especially on a long, generously proportioned course
like Hazeltine? World No. 2 Phil Mickelson made 10 bogeys and
three doubles at the Buick--and that was a drastic improvement
over his play at the previous week's International, during which
he shot an unofficial 85 (under the modified Stableford system)
in the second round. David Duval has missed four straight cuts in
the U.S., while Els never made it to the starting line in Grand
Blanc, withdrawing so he could relax at home in Orlando.
It seems we're back in the familiar territory where Woods is
competing mainly against himself. When his Grand Slam dream went
kaput at last month's British Open there was speculation that
Woods might have trouble getting motivated for the PGA. He
addressed this, too, on tigerwoods.com. (He is becoming
increasingly like the Wizard of Oz, hiding behind the curtain of
his machinery.) "From what I've heard, some people expect me to
have a letdown at the PGA Championship, which I find amusing,"
Woods wrote. "How can you have a letdown? It's a major
championship and the last one of the year."
The competition should consider itself forewarned.
ANNIKA SORENSTAM is becoming Nancy Lopez--a prolific winner who
too often struggles in big events. Like her breakdown at the
2000 Solheim Cup, Sorenstam's missed cut at the British is proof
that she needs to learn from her rival, Karrie Webb, and harness
K.J. Choi of South Korea has redoubled his efforts to improve his
English by watching more television, specifically CNN and
baseball telecasts. "I like the baseball announcers because they
repeat the same phrases over and over," Choi says.
Phil Mickelson (page 62) stunned reporters last week at the
Buick Open by rattling off the names of all five of the Detroit
Lions' starting offensive linemen during a football-intensive
pretournament press conference. Lefty's early Super Bowl pick?
From the Curious Statistics Dept.: The last time Tiger Woods
broke 70 on a Saturday was at the Byron Nelson Classic, in May.
In 2002 he has shot in the 60s during the third round only three
times in 12 tournaments.
Other on-course oddities: Mike Heinen made back-to-back eagles
on Sunday at the Buick (on the par-five 13th hole and the
par-four 14th), yet shot a smooth 75.
Elisabeth Esterl's first-round outfit at the Women's British
Open was right out of Austin Powers in Goldmember--bright pink
top and zany trousers that were pink, lime green, orange, lilac
and yellow. "It's a bit gray out there on the course, so I wear
bright colors," said Esterl, a 26-year-old German.
Baltimore's Tina Barrett also adapted to the native environment,
acknowledging that she loved golf in Scotland because "you play
and then you have a pint." Asked if she was really enjoying a
pint of stout following her rounds, she said, "I am more of a
lager kind of person." O.K. then, how many a night? "No more
than two," Barrett said, "because they are strong."
The word on the street around Turnberry last week was that a
bypass road is near approval connecting the town of Ayr and the
ancient links, thereby providing a detour around the tiny hamlet
of Maybole. This is considered crucial to Turnberry's bid to
host its first men's British Open since 1994, as presently A77
snakes through Maybole, with its traffic lights and roundabouts,
and the resulting backups have been problematic at previous Opens.
VOTE AT GOLFONLINE.COM
THIS WEEK: In May the USGA proposed that hot drivers be legalized
for a window of five years, but last week it ruled that such
drivers would continue to be banned. Do you agree with the USGA's
latest ruling, disagree or not care one way or the other?
LAST WEEK: With the Grand Slam no longer at stake, do you care
less about the PGA, more, or has your interest remained the same?
Less .... 18% More .... 8% Same .... 74%
--Based on 4,303 responses to our informal survey.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID WALBERG [Inside Cover] MAJOR PUSH Tiger Woods: On a Roll from the Buick to the PGA
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID WALBERGROLLING STONE Woods was pumped, thanks to a hot putter.
COLOR PHOTO: WARREN LITTLE/GETTY IMAGES (LEFT) HOT PANTS Esterl was in the pink at the British Open.