Originally created 06/20/00

Woods' win puts doubts to rest



These words were written back in 1998 about the current men's golf national champion: "Tiger Woods will not win a U.S. Open in the near future because he's too bold and too temperamental for this tournament's rigorous state."

The Tiger Woods we witnessed play the role of wrecking ball to Pebble Beach and a major field of 155 other golfers over the weekend is nothing but a reasonable facsimile of his previous Open challenges at Oakland Hills, Congressional, Olympic and Pinehurst. His game had weaknesses then, glaring weaknesses that tended to arrive only when the absolute best was required.

And those weaknesses fed golf's vultures, the doubters who'd circle Tiger, ready to bounce at the first drip of dropped shots and mental errors.

Sure, Tiger drives the golf ball at great lengths, but who knows where it will end up? You can't win U.S. Opens from the rough, and Tiger's ball seems to have rough radar.

As an amateur in 1995, Tiger did have to withdraw from the Open at Shinnecock Hills after he sprained his wrist while trying to whack from the hay.

But the rough now? Problem no longer. Tiger makes splitting fairways more than 300 yards away as routine as wearing red shirts on Sunday.

And when you can hit knockdown 4-irons off the tee to position A, and hit those wind-cheating 2-iron stingers without fear, you don't have to worry about playing from the rough. He's the game's best shot maker.

OK, so Tiger drives it a long way. But he's so inconsistent with his distance control that his pitching wedge shots are like Chuck Knoblauch's throws from second. You never know when one will end up in your lap.

At Oakland Hills, Tiger did scare enough gallery members who happened to be standing on neighboring tee boxes, as he hit 52.8 percent of greens.

But distance control now? Problem no longer. With enough range work to rival Vijay Singh's reputation, Tiger's tempered his slashing swing and perfected those pitching and sand wedge yardages. Can you remember the last time Tiger air-mailed a green from the fairway?

Yeah, but he's in his share of trouble from time to time. This guy's all about power. He couldn't get up-and-down in an elevator.

At Congressional, while Tiger led the field in birdies, he'd find enough trouble greenside to produce his share of whiffs and flubs.

But chips, flops and bunkers now? Problem no longer. You see the endless hours of practice in his short game as Tiger nudges every chip, every flop, every bunker play inside 10 feet.

Forget Phil; Tiger's now the game's greatest short-game wiz.

Once Tiger gets on the greens, that's where the real adventure is. The putter is kryptonite in his hands.

Tiger might have won at Pinehurst had he not yanked putts from 3 feet twice on Sunday. And at Olympic, Tiger had two four-putts, countless three-putts and 126 putts in all.

But putting now? No problem this past week. His putter, used 100 times in carrying him to victory, sank shots in the fog, the wind and at all hours.

So let's recap: Game's greatest all-around driver. Game's greatest shot maker. Game's surest short game. Game's most determined to succeed. Game's fiercest competitor. Any questions?

It's this totality that separates Tiger from his contemporaries. His ultimate beauty comes from understanding that his game needed massive reconstruction to reach the levels he's enjoying.

Scary to believe, but Tiger Woods is 24 and still a work in progress. It'll be hard to duplicate this showing at St. Andrews, Valhalla or even Southern Hills for the 2001 Open.

But after Tiger's 15-shot triumph, the greatest individual performance in golf's storied history, the vultures now are out of business.

Reach Rick Dorsey at (706) 823-3219.