AUGUSTA, Ga., April 10 - Jack Nicklaus missed the cut for only the fourth time in 42 appearances at the Masters. Even rarer was what he did Sunday. He sat in front of his television.
InsertArt(972463)“I DON’T NORMALLY WATCH golf, but I watched ... with great anticipation of seeing how it would unfold,” he said.
Although Nicklaus still has triple the number of green jackets (6-2) and major championships (18-6), Tiger Woods went 1-up on him and everyone else by winning all four majors in a span of 294 days over two incredible seasons.
“Is it a Grand Slam? I don’t think it makes a difference,” Nicklaus said. “What it’s called is irrelevant. What he’s done is what matters most, and what he’s done is unbelievable. I call it the most remarkable feat I have ever seen or heard of in golf.”
Maybe in golf.
But not for Tiger.
Winning four straight majors is every bit as awesome as Bobby Jones winning the four majors of his era in 1930. At worst, it is comparable to Byron Nelson winning 11 straight PGA Tour events in 1945 and Ben Hogan winning five of the six tournaments he played in 1953, three of them the only majors he could enter (the British Open and PGA Championship overlapped that year).
Still, Woods’ greatest feat remains the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, which started this improbable sweep of the majors.
Jones won the Grand Slam. Arnold Palmer created the professional Grand Slam. Nicklaus pursued it. Woods dreamed about it. Golf fans wondered if anyone could achieve it.
How many people truly believed a player would ever a U.S. Open, the toughest test in golf, by 15 strokes?
The margin of victory was the largest in the 140-year history of major championships. In the modern era, the biggest blowout in a U.S. Open had come in 1970 at Hazeltine when Tony Jacklin went wire-to-wire to win by seven shots.
Woods more than doubled that margin. No one else was under par that week at Pebble Beach. He was 12 under, the first time anyone had finished double digits under par.
The feeling leaving Augusta National was not filled with as much amazement because Woods didn’t do anything that wasn’t expected of him, anything he had not done before.
True, a chance to win four straight majors doesn’t come along every year. Hogan was the last man in that position, in 1954, losing the Masters in a playoff against Sam Snead.
Woods faced a similar now-or-never situation last summer at the British Open when he had a chance to become the youngest player to win the career Grand Slam. The career slam was inevitable, but this likely was his only shot to do it at St. Andrews. Woods never hit into a bunker over 72 holes and won by eight strokes.
Looking for a drama-packed final round with history on the line?
The challenge Sunday came from David Duval and Phil Mickelson, his chief rivals, with a cameo appearance by good friend Mark Calcavecchia and a disturbing lack of one by Ernie Els. Woods was never out of the lead for more than two minutes and never lost control of the tournament.
That wasn’t nearly as gut-wrenching as the PGA Championship, where he had to shoot 31 on the back nine and birdie the last two holes to force a playoff with Bob May, who has as many majors as Duval and Mickelson combined.
This might not even be the greatest Masters ever. One could make a strong case for Nicklaus winning at age 46 in 1986 with a 30 on the back nine, or his incredible battle with Tom Weiskopf and Johnny Miller in 1975, or even Woods’ winning by 12 shots as a 21-year-old in 1997.
Woods was more methodical than he was spectacular. He won the Masters the way Nicklaus won so many of his majors, by failing to make mistakes as his challengers stumbled.
The most memorable shot from Woods was an 8-iron from 149 on the most frightening par 4 at Augusta National that gave him a tap-in birdie.
Duval will be haunted by missing putts on the final three holes that measured a combined 25 feet. Mickelson was done in by an errant tee shot on the 11th and a three-putt on the 16th, mistakes that led to an even-par 36 on the back nine of Augusta.
The only real blemish by Woods was when he missed a 2½-foot birdie putt on the par-5 15th, his fourth three-putt of the week, that extended the drama for a few extra holes.
This Masters was great for what it represented. It made Woods the first player to hold all four major championship trophies at the same time, the first to win all four in a row.
“What he has done, nobody has ever done,” Nicklaus said. “And it is unlikely that anyone will do it again.
Except maybe Woods.
Prediction for the U.S. Open - Tiger by 20.
© 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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