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Woods impresses Nicklaus at PGA

Posted: Friday, August 18, 2000

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Jack Nicklaus got his first up-close look at Tiger Woods. He saw the same thing everyone else has all year.

Drives that sailed 300 yards down the middle of the fairway. Approach shots that took dead aim at the flag. Putts falling on command. A familiar name on top of the leaderboard in a major championship.

Nicklaus knows it all too well. Only on Thursday, in the PGA Championship, he was just along for the ride.

Playing with his idol for the first time in competition, Woods put on a phenomenal display of power and control and made four straight birdies in a round of 6-under-par 66 that gave him a share of the lead with Scott Dunlap.

''He shot the easiest 66,'' Nicklaus said. ''It was a real treat to watch.''

Woods hardly broke a sweat on a sweltering day at Valhalla Golf Club, and got off to a perfect start in his bid to become the first player since Ben Hogan in 1953 to win three majors in one year.

''He's won the last two majors by 23 shots,'' Dunlap said. ''His presence is nothing more than discouraging to the rest of the field.''

That's what they used to say about Nicklaus, who won many of his record 18 major championships by his presence alone, and by making the fewest mistakes. Such was the case for Woods, who hit 16 of 18 greens and missed only three fairways.

''Phenomenal control. Phenomenal concentration,'' Nicklaus gushed. ''He didn't try to do anything that he couldn't do. That's the way you play golf.''

Some of the late finishers had other ideas on how the game should be played. Ernie Els, Justin Leonard and red-faced Colin Montgomerie were among those who trudged off oven-like Valhalla in fading sunlight after rounds that lasted more than six hours.

''Maybe we should change venues,'' Els said after a 74. ''We teed off at 1:34 p.m., and we made it by a half-hour. It's ridiculous.''

Play was suspended at 8:27 p.m. with 18 players still on the course. Among them were 50-year-old Tom Kite and Stuart Appleby, 2 under with one hole to play.

Some blamed slow play on the fact that all the par-5s can be reached in two. Some blamed the heat. But at the end of the day, there was still no answer to Woods.

It was his 12th consecutive round of par or better in a major championship, dating to a first-round 75 in the Masters, the only major he failed to win this year.

While Woods said he was honored to play with Nicklaus, he didn't get too wrapped up in the significance of their first time playing together in what is Nicklaus' final appearance in the PGA Championship.

''When I'm on that first tee, I couldn't care less who I'm playing with,'' Woods said. ''I'm trying to get ready to try and put myself in position to win a major championship.''

Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland, who beat Woods in the finals of the Match Play Championship in February, got off to a strong start with a 4-under 68. Joining him was Davis Love III, who has finished second to Woods on four occasions but was hardly conceding him anything so soon.

''I just play my own game and get lost in my own little world out there,'' Love said during a 10-minute interview in which he never mentioned Woods by name.

Ed Fryatt, who got in as an alternate when former PGA champion Steve Elkington withdrew, and Fred Funk were among those at 69. Phil Mickelson, the 36-hole leader at Valhalla in 1996, birdied only one of the par-5s and had a 2-under 70.

As well as Woods played, he also got the advantage of playing early. None of the 18 players who completed rounds under par teed off later than 12:04 p.m. When play was suspended, officials were dousing the greens with hopes of keeping the grass alive.

Some players looked like they needed reviving, too. Montgomerie walked slowly out of the scoring trailer, his shirt soaked, and clutched the back of his neck. He apologized to reporters when he declined to talk about his round.

''I don't feel so good,'' the Scotsman said.

While low scores were available in the morning, not everyone took advantage. Hal Sutton and Sergio Garcia were at 74, while Greg Norman was at 75. Masters champion Vijay Singh, who also played with Woods and Nicklaus, bogeyed the last three holes for a 77.

Dunlap was perhaps the biggest surprise. A day after he turned 37, Dunlap found himself alone in the lead early in the day with a chip-in for eagle on No. 2 and birdies on two other par-5s, putting him at 5 under through 10 holes.

''The next best score I saw up there was 2 under,'' Dunlap said. ''I knew I was having a good round, but I was kind of wondering, 'Where is everybody?'''

The roars soon followed. It was easy to find Woods and Nicklaus because cheers followed them around Valhalla -- standing ovations for Nicklaus as he approached every green, gasps with every approach Woods hit close.

It started on No. 7, where Woods hit his drive so far down the left portion of the fairway -- 331 yards -- that it almost found the end. He hit a 7-iron into 30 feet and the eagle putt rippled over the lip.

On the par-3 8th, Woods hit a 9-iron short of the many hollows on Valhalla's green and left himself about 12 feet below the hole. Nicklaus followed and wound up right next to Woods -- with a 6-iron.

''He impressed me with what he did on that hole,'' Nicklaus said. ''He played a club that would leave him short of the little hollows. I never would have thought you'd do it with a 9-iron. Gosh, he hits the ball a long way.''

That was the one of the few times Woods and Nicklaus talked at length.

''He asked me a couple of times today what I was trying to do,'' Woods said. ''I thought that was kind of interesting, because I feel I have an understanding of how he plays. I kind of play the same way he used to.''

Woods holed that putt for birdie, then hit a wedge to 12 feet for birdie on 9 and hit a flop shot from the behind the green on the par-5 10th into 3 feet for his fourth straight birdie. His biggest putt came on the 17th, where he chipped 20 feet past the hole and made it coming back for par.

In the midst of watching Woods cruise through a course he designed, Nicklaus had a lot on his mind. His mother, Helen, died Wednesday morning and Nicklaus left for Columbus, Ohio, to be with his family after his round ended.

His game was also a distraction.

Nicklaus made double-bogey on No. 1 when his bump-and-run didn't quite make it through a swale. He missed fairways right and left, three-putted from 60 feet and couldn't convert birdies from close range. He wound up with a 77.

In a lighter moment, Nicklaus was standing over a 1-foot par putt when a butterfly landed behind his putter as he was ready to pull the trigger. He backed off, smiled and said, ''There must be a conspiracy.''

Clearly, this week hasn't gone Nicklaus' way. For Woods, it only looks like another sequel.



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