Originally created 07/10/02

How do you beat the best?



The answer hasn't come from sports psychologists. It hasn't been programmed by a swing doctor. The solution hasn't been pulled out of the bag by an equipment representative.

So, with only a week left before the British Open, the formula to stop Tiger Woods' stranglehold on major championships has been discovered by the unlikeliest of sources - a 42-year-old working mother.

Juli Inkster did what no man has been able to do in three years - beat the world's best player in the final round of a major championship. To be fair to the male pretenders, Inkster doesn't have to play Tiger. But she faced down the next best thing, Annika Sorenstam.

With a 4-under-par 66 that rates among the finest final rounds in U.S. Women's Open history, Inkster erased a two-shot Sorenstam lead that typically would be a cinch for the Swede to hold.

"I didn't lose today," Sorenstam said after her even-par 70 failed to generate the same result as Woods' level-par close at the men's Open at Bethpage Black last month. "Juli won. ... There was nothing I could do about it."

What a novel concept - someone actually stepping up to beat the best player in the world instead of relying on said player to beat him/herself.

If you get right down to it, Tiger Woods hasn't been beaten in a major championship since the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. He's won seven of the 12 majors since, and the scraps he left for golf's lesser lights were the results of his own undoing that kept him from ever contending.

To keep Woods' Grand Slam express from cruising next week at Muirfield and again at Hazeltine in August, some player is going to have to step up and pull an Inkster.

Heed her words.

"I felt like all the pressure was on Annika," Inkster said. "She's the No. 1 player in the world; she had the two-shot lead. I just felt if I could get off to a reasonable start, that I would have a shot."

Inkster has one huge advantage over a few of the men most capable of challenging Woods. She has experience winning majors, claiming seven in her Hall of Fame career.

Phil Mickelson has zero. Sergio Garcia has zero. Their collective inexperience with winning majors showed at both Augusta and Bethpage this year.

But it doesn't have to stay that way. Inkster's victory message sounded as if it were intended for Mickelson, whose frequent foolhardy action has cost him several major chances.

"You can't go out there and play aggressive and try to make birdies," Inkster said. "You've got to play smart and let the birdies come, and try to stay away from mistakes."

It's such a simple plan that only Woods has managed to master in the men's pool. Maybe it's not too late for someone else to figure it out. All they have to do is listen to Inkster and do as she did.

"Tiger is human and Annika is human," she said. "I just think you've got to play your own game and not worry about what Tiger is doing or what Annika is doing. I can play with her. I don't do that every week, and she wins almost every other week. But given the right situation, I feel like I can play with her. I didn't try to do anything that I wasn't capable of doing and it worked out."

Gentlemen, heed her words.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.



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