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Tiger Woods now aiming for three in a row

Only four players had won the career Grand Slam until Tiger Woods completed the cycle with an unprecedented romp around the Old Course to win the British Open. Next up is a chance to join some really exclusive company.

Ben Hogan was the only player who won three major championships in one year, in 1953. That's what awaits Woods next month, when he makes his first visit to Valhalla Golf Club for the PGA Championship.

"I've always said you would like to have your game peak at four different times a year,'' Woods said. "That's something you always hope for and plan for. To actually have it happen is a different story. Hopefully, my game will be ready for the PGA.''

Everyone else better hope he gets lost on his way to Kentucky.

Winning major championships is not an issue with Woods. Lately, the only drama is what kind of record will fall.

In the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, he became the first player to finish in double digits below par (12-under), broke a 138-year-old record with his 15-stroke victory and tied the U.S. Open aggregate scoring record at 272.

A month later, Woods arrived at the home of golf and made even more history.

He won the British Open with a 19-under 269, a record score at St. Andrews and the lowest score in relation to par ever in a major championship. His eight-stroke victory over Ernie Els and Thomas Bjorn was the widest in 87 years.

Two majors -- one the toughest test in golf, the other the oldest. Woods won them by a combined 23 strokes, playing 31 strokes below par.

"In one way, it is incredible to watch a guy play so much better than the rest of the world,'' said Els, a runner-up in all three majors this year. "In another way, it's tough to sit down here and talk about him every time.

"I might have to get used to it, but I guess that's the way it goes.''

That's the way it's gone for just about everybody this year. Aside from two bad holes in the first round of The Masters -- a double bogey and triple bogey -- Woods might very well be going for the Grand Slam in one year.

He didn't have anything that remotely resembled trouble in the British Open.

The Old Course has 112 pot bunkers, but the only time Woods even glimpsed any of them was when he watched chief challenger David Duval flail away four times to get out of the Road Hole bunker on No. 17 in the final round Sunday.

"I was in a bunker every day,'' Woods said. "But it was on the practice green.''

He made only three bogeys all week, two of them on three-putts. The British Open is regarded as the one major where luck is the best club in the bag, only Woods never needed a fortuitous hop over four rounds.

He knew exactly where he was going -- into the history books.

"To win a major championship, it is a different thought process and a different understanding of the game,'' he said. "Most majors, you're going to have to go out there and understand that par is a wonderful score. It brings out the best in players, guys who can strike the ball the best, keep their emotions in check and make the big putts.''

He was all that.

If par is a good score in majors, Woods has been simply great. Including his 4-under 284 at Augusta National, where he finished fifth behind Vijay Singh, Woods is now 35-under par in the majors.

"It was a spectacular performance, to say the least," said Duval, whose quadruple bogey on No. 17 dropped him out of the top 10 in theOpen, and caused him to lose his No. 2 spot in the Official World Golf Ranking to Els.

Woods has been that way for over a year now.

Sunday was his 23rd consecutive round under par. He has six victories in 14 events this year, and 15 out of his last 27 over the last 15 months.

"He is something supernatural,'' said Tom Watson, who had been the last player to win the British Open and U.S. Open in the same year, in 1982. "He has raised the bar to a level that only he can jump. Someone is going to have to use some Flubber in the bottom of their shoes to be able to jump over that bar.''

Watson is the only player to win the British Open at five courses, none at St. Andrews, the old, gray town where golf has been played for more than 500 years -- but never like this.

Only two other champions had won a British Open with four rounds in the 60s -- Greg Norman at Royal St. George in 1993, and Nick Price in 1994. The Royal & Ancient Golf Club tried to toughen the Old Course by moving five tee boxes back and making the walls of the bunkers nearly vertical.

Look for a new rule next year that says anyone still in their 20s who already has won the Grand Slam must play with one hand tied behind the back.

Or use the gutta-percha ball.

Of course, Woods did that on the 342-yard ninth hole during a practice round. He still made par.

"What really stinks about it is the fact you can't control him,'' Paul Azinger said. "In every other sport, you can control your opponent. Except for this sport. You can only focus on your own game.''

All the while, Woods is focusing on the record books.

 

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