Born in the wrong era

Posted: Monday, April 09, 2001

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Maybe if they were born in a different era, David Duval and Phil Mickelson would have that major championship by now.

Unfortunately, they came along at the same time as Tiger Woods.

What a tortuous curse for a golfer, one that was endured by the players who chased Jones, Hogan and Nicklaus.

Once again, Woods was holding the trophy Sunday, collecting his fourth straight major championship by two strokes over Duval and three over Mickelson in a stirring final round at the Masters.

Woods is only 25 -- still a few years away from the usual prime for a golfer. Yet he already holds six major titles and the implausible distinction of being the first player ever to be champion of the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship at the same time.

A Tiger Slam, if you will.

Duval and Mickelson have combined for 30 PGA Tour victories, but they've never reached the promised land of a major championship.

''If I'm going to win with Tiger in the field, I cannot make the mistakes I've been making,'' said Mickelson, who missed four putts inside 10 feet on a warm, sunny afternoon at Augusta National.

Duval is only 29, Mickelson a year older. Neither has reached an age where they'll concede to the very real possibility that their physical skills and mental acumen will never be quite good enough for this generation.

''No, not really,'' Mickelson said, when asked if he feels cursed to come along at this point in history. ''Not yet.''

HEAD:Born in the wrong era

By DOUG FERGUSON

AP Golf Writer

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Tiger Woods removed his cap and covered his face so he could flick away his tears, a rare moment when he wasn't in complete control.

''I've never had that feeling before,'' he said.

Professional golf hasn't seen anything like this before, either.

Slam or not, Woods was simply grand on Sunday, claiming the greatest feat in modern golf with a thrilling victory at the Masters that gave him a clean sweep of the four professional majors in a span of 294 days.

When his 18-foot birdie putt curved gently to the left and disappeared into the 18th hole, he raised his arms in triumph and almost immediately began to reflect on an achievement even he couldn't resist calling one of the greatest ever.

A runaway at the U.S. Open. History at St. Andrews. A heart-stopper in the PGA Championship. The grand finale came at Augusta National, where Woods held off David Duval and Phil Mickelson, his chief rivals, to win No. 4

''I have a better appreciation for winning a major championship,'' Woods said. ''To win four of them in succession, it's hard to believe. I don't think I've ever accomplished anything this great.''

Woods closed with a 4-under 68 for a two-stroke victory over Duval, thanks to a spectacular 8-iron that grazed the cup at 11th hole for a tap-in birdie and steady play down the back stretch at Augusta.

''I was so attuned to each and every shot that I focused so hard on just that one golf shot,'' he said. ''I finally realized I had no more to play. That's it. I'm done.''

Duval and Mickelson each had chances, but failed to harness the magic that has carried Woods to five of the last six majors.

Duval, believing this might be his year after three close calls, made it through Amen Corner without a mistake but took bogey on the par-3 16th, firing his tee shot over the green and missing an 8-foot putt for par.

He had two chances to catch Woods, but looked on in shock as birdie putts from 12 feet on the 17th and 5 feet on the final hole failed to fall.

Mickelson, poised to claim his first major, also missed an 8-foot par putt on the 16th hole. He also failed to cash in on birdie putts on the final two holes.

''He simply does what is required,'' Mickelson said.

Woods never faltered.

His lead remained at one stroke when he missed a 3-foot birdie putt on the 15th, but he traded spectacular golf for solid play with history on the line and delivered, as he has done from the time he turned pro five short years ago.

''I've succeeded in what I wanted to accomplish,'' Woods said as he sat in Butler's cabin waiting for last year's winner, Vijay Singh, to help him put on another green jacket. ''I don't feel ecstatic yet. It hasn't sunk in.''

He later took a congratulatory call from President Bush.

All that remained was what to call this remarkable feat. Purists argue that a Grand Slam is accomplished in a calendar year. Woods, emotionally drained after a relentless battle from start to finish, stayed out of the argument.

''I won four,'' he said with a coy smile.

Woods can simply take out his trophies from the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship -- and claim a place in history that no professional has occupied.

Not Jack Nicklaus, his idol, who missed his chance to hold the titles of all four majors in 1972. Not Arnold Palmer, who dreamed up the idea of a Grand Slam in 1960 but only got halfway there.

The only Grand Slam in golf not up for debate is the one that belongs to Bobby Jones, who won the U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur, British Open and British Amateur in 1930.

Fittingly, Woods finished his historic run at the tournament Jones created in 1934.

''A Grand Slam is something we've never seen before,'' said Butch Harmon, Woods' swing coach. ''But we may see it before we're done.''

Woods now has won six majors, as many as Nick Faldo and Lee Trevino and only one major behind the likes of Palmer, Sam Snead and Harry Vardon. And with his winning score of 16-under 272, Woods swept the majors with a combined score of 65-under par.

The final leg at the Masters featured one dramatic moment after another involving three of the best players in the world. All of them had their chances. Every putt could have turned the tide. The crowds watched breathlessly as it all unfolded.

In the end it was Woods who walked away with the green jacket and shook the hands of Mickelson and Duval with a sly smile.

Woods won his third straight tournament -- so much for that ''slump'' -- and earned $1,008,000, his second consecutive $1 million payoff.

He improved to 25-4 worldwide when leading going into the final round, and he has been particularly tough in majors. Woods now has had at least a share of the lead in 13 of the last 16 rounds of major championship golf.

He now has won 27 times on the PGA Tour in just 98 tournaments, and six majors in only 17 starts as a professional.

What's next?

Maybe a Grand Slam that no one can debate. Next stop, the U.S. Open.

''We'll find out in June,'' Woods said.



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