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Woods asked about slump, not a slam

Posted: Wednesday, June 11, 2003

OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. Slam and slump.

Mike Weir got all the questions about the first topic, courtesy of his playoff victory in the Masters that makes him the only player capable of winning the Grand Slam this year.

Tiger Woods was asked about the other.

Clearly, the buildup to this U.S. Open is a little different.

Two years ago, Woods had won four consecutive majors and the debate was whether a Grand Slam had to be won in a single year. Last year at Bethpage Black, the talk was whether he could win a calendar slam.

Now he's gone four tournaments without contending and gasp! three whole majors without winning.

Woods played nine holes Tuesday morning at Olympia Fields Country Club before rain chased him away. He returned four hours later to talk about his chances at the U.S. Open and the state of his game.

The opening question:

''Tiger, are you concerned ... what we are concerned about ... that if you do not win one of the majors this year, it won't seem like Tiger Woods is in the game?''

Woods paused.

''I didn't know you were concerned about it,'' he said. ''If you can win one major, you've had a great year. That's always been my goal, and that's my goal this week.''

For the first time since 1999, Woods isn't leading the PGA Tour money list coming into the U.S. Open.

Despite three victories in his first four starts, he isn't even the hottest player in golf. Kenny Perry has won his last two events, while Weir and Davis Love III also have three victories.

But a slump?

''I don't think I've ever been in a slump,'' Woods said. ''Ever since I came out of the womb and I've started playing golf, I've had a pretty good career.''

That includes a couple of U.S. Open victories, by 15 strokes at Pebble Beach in 2000 and by three shots over Phil Mickelson last year. A victory at Olympia Fields would be three in the last four years, the most dominant stretch in 50 years.

The big picture also shows 37 victories on the PGA Tour and seven of the last 14 majors.

''Obviously, Tiger takes up a lot of the majors these days,'' Padraig Harrington said.

Whether that's the case at Olympia Fields remains to be seen.

In the 18 holes he played two weeks ago with Michael Jordan and the 27 holes he has played since he arrived this week, Woods has learned that Olympia Fields is not much different from other U.S. Open courses.

''This is not as easy as people might think,'' he said. ''This is a very difficult golf course. Some of the holes may be short, but they've got fairways that are 18, 20 yards wide. That's pretty tough to drive your ball into.''

Woods found that out in the short time he was on the course Tuesday. From grass so deep it covered his shoes, he hacked out to the ninth fairway about 100 yards short of the green on the 496-yard par 4. Ever the optimist, he then dropped a ball in the short grass and hit a long iron to within 15 feet of the hole.

Getting the ball in the fairway will be the key for Woods and the rest of the 155 players at Olympia Fields. That's where Woods has struggled since winning the Bay Hill Invitational by 11 shots three months ago.

Going for his third straight Masters, he hit his driver into the azaleas on No. 3 in the final round, made double bogey and wound up in a tie for 15th. His bid for three in a row at the Deustche Bank-SAP Open in Germany ended on the greens.

At the Memorial, a tournament where he is the only three-time winner, he hit a drive out of bounds while shooting 42 on the front nine Saturday to take himself out of contention.

Problems?

''My game is pretty good, I think,'' Woods said, a touch of defensiveness in his voice. ''I'm pleased at the signs I'm showing.''

That's the price of being No. 1 for the last four years.

Win a few majors, and he's the best player ever to have swung a golf club. Go a few months without winning anything, and he's in a slump.

''I've had some success, but I think sometimes all of you can be a bit dramatic in your writing styles, very flowery at times,'' Woods said. ''I've hit some good shots, but they haven't been that good. And then I've hit some bad shots, and they haven't been that bad.

''It's somewhere in between.''

Weir, meanwhile, is serious about the Grand Slam.

Usually it's the first topic raised whenever Woods wins the Masters. For the Canadian, it came at the end of his interview, and he took no offense.

''It's not an insult at all,'' Weir said. ''He's a guy that has won four majors in a row, so it's a legitimate question. For me, it's my first major championship.''

Before he won the Masters, making clutch par putts on the 17th and 18th and winning with a three-putt bogey in the playoff, Weir always figured a U.S. Open or British Open might be his best chance at winning a major.

He still believes that, which is why he won't rule out the Grand Slam.

''Things have to fall into place and the stars have to line up,'' Weir said. ''But we'll see what happens this week.''



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