FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- The day began with Tiger Woods trying to beat Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson. It ended with Tiger dueling Jack Nicklaus and Bobby Jones.
That's how it goes with the most dominant figure in sports these days. All along, as you watched the soggy drama unfold on the Black Course at Bethpage State Park, your eyes were deceiving you. It only seemed as if Tiger was playing with mortals at the U.S. Open. In reality, he was busy pushing his way past the golf gods, slowly climbing that rarefied air toward the top.
It's almost an insult to place Woods with the rest of the tour anymore. He's well beyond that, wouldn't you agree? He does not tee up against Mickelson or Garcia or David Duval. Those guys are nothing but bit players in the big picture, mere pins to be toppled. While they're busy trying to grab a major or two and scratch out a few million bucks, Woods is working on his place in history. They're confined to one world. He's in another.
This was confirmed at 8:28 Sunday night on the 18th hole. A 4-foot putt for bogey gave Woods a 3-under-par finish, put another tournament in the books and kept a true Grand Slam alive. So routine are Tiger's victories nowadays, he doesn't bother celebrating as he once did. He scooped the ball from the cup, gave a quick arm thrust, then turned to congratulate Garcia, his overwhelmed playing partner. There was no fist-pump, no cartwheels, no tears of joy, no dancing. Tiger reacted as though he did this before.
Is beating everyone to a pulp getting old already?
The answer is an emphatic no. Although he doesn't show it, Tiger gets extreme satisfaction in keeping the golf world on its knees. If his desire was dry, do you think he would practice as intensely as he does? You think he would subconsciously ease up and allow someone to sneak through every once in a while?
"Tiger never really opened the door wide enough to let anyone in this tournament,' said Jeff Maggert, who finished five strokes back. "It's safe to say he's the greatest player at his age there's ever been. He's got 20 years ahead of him. You never know what he might be able to accomplish. He might be winning tournaments at 60. You never know."
There's a darn good reason Woods just won his eighth major title at the tender age of 26. He wants Jones. He wants Jack. He wants there to be no dispute when he walks off the course for the last time. He wants to put as much distance between himself and Nicklaus, the greatest winner in history, as there is between himself and Mickelson.
"Unfortunately, I didn't get to see Jack Nicklaus play in his prime," Garcia, 22, said. "But I'll tell you one thing, it doesn't get better than this."
By taking seven of the last 11 majors, the only way Woods can really shock anyone is by going a year without winning one. In every tournament he enters, he's the heavy favorite and everyone else is playing for second. Remember this when the British Open begins in a month. Keep this in mind in August at the PGA Championship. Don't dismiss, for one second, the man's ability to do a clean sweep and seize the Slam.
You know, when Tiger won the 1997 Masters by shooting 18 under, the golf world figured it would be his greatest feat. Then he won the Masters two more times. When Woods won the 2000 U.S. Open by shooting 12 under, some said he couldn't lower that. Then he went 19 under at the British that year and 18 under at the PGA.
When Woods collected the "Tiger Slam" last year by holding all the major titles, but not in the same calendar year, did you think it would be his crowning legacy? Well, as we know now, the true Slam is well within reach.
He's halfway there. He battled the wind, the rain and one tough public course to conquer all at Bethpage. The trophy case is filling, his resume is stretching and the golf gods are shaking. A force is coming their way, and it shows no signs of slowing down.
"I'm only 26," Woods said as he cradled the 102nd U.S. Open trophy. "It's not like my career's finished. I still have a long way to go. I'm just going to try and get better."
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