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Tiger's rivals must rise to the challenge

So predictable was Tiger Woods' win in the 2000 Open that Peter Dawson, the Secretary of the R & A, gave the go-ahead for the engraver to start work on the Claret Jug the moment that Woods had putted round the bunker on the Road Hole.

"It was not," said Dawson, "something we would normally have dreamt of doing but, in the circumstances . . ."

Almost everyone who watched the Open, either on television or at St Andrews, will have wondered where it will all end. Can Woods go on winning by the proverbial street? If so, what will it do for Woods and for golf itself?

Woods was suitably ecstatic on Sunday night but, to be ruthlessly honest, his was not the head-over-heels joy of someone who had to pinch himself to believe that he had finally achieved a childhood dream. He always knew that if his game peaked in the right weeks, he could win all the majors.

For the moment, as the R & A said yesterday, it is still great box-office, not least because Woods is so inspirational a star. It has crossed their minds that it could at some point become too much of a good thing but, when they think that way, they remind themselves that there are other players who would have sired a not-too-dissimilar debate. Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus, each in a very different way, to name but two.

Hugh Campbell, chairman of the R & A's championship committee, said that much was up to Woods' contemporaries. In his opinion, they needed "to pull themselves up by their boot strings and start to compete". Campbell believes Woods was at once fitter and more focused than the rest, quite apart from being technically superior.

He surmised that it is the next generation, the Adam Scott's and the Aaron Baddeleys of this world, who are most likely to pose a threat to the world No 1 in that they are doing as Tiger did in exploring every avenue to get the best out of themselves. They work with a stream of coaches, fitness experts, dieticians and psychologists, while they are also as well-informed as any generation has ever been on the importance of keeping their lives well balanced.

Most of Woods' older professional brethren suffer from the fact that golf is a game whose exponents have traditionally been able to get away without exactly being trained down to the last ounce.

Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke, for example, are hardly well-honed athletes. Yet both could win the odd major without following Tiger's fitness regime. It is only if they want to play consistently on a higher level that they would they have to think of a change of lifestyle. If Sergio Garcia is committed to making it into the Tiger league he would have to be much harder on himself. At present, thespoilt child within is too often apt to surface.

As for Colin Montgomerie, he is an intelligent player who will have to consider whether he has won seven Order of Merits in spite of, or because of, the fact that he has practised so lightly. Were he to decide to practise harder, there would, of course, be an element of risk involved in that too much toil could spell an end to his enthusiasm. In truth, it is not too difficult to imagine professionals everywhere looking in the mirror and asking a few, searching questions.

For Ernie Els, the process started at St Andrews on Sunday evening. The South African, who has finished second in each of this year's majors, looked deflated, admitting that even had he played his best, he doubted whether he could have caught Woods.

David Duval, who came spectacularly to grief at the Road Hole, would no doubt have had a million thoughts going through his head as he travelled back to Orlando on Woods' private plane. In the past, not too many would have given a damn what happened to Duval, because of the way in which he shut himself away from the public. At St Andrews, though, the quiet dignity with which he took the twin humiliations of taking four from sand and slipping to seven under par had everyone warming to him.

As you would expect, some professionals have taken refuge in Earl Woods' old suggestion - it now sounds pretty mild - that his son is the next Messiah. "The young man is playing the game supernaturally," said Tom Watson, who won the Open five times. "He seems to be the chosen one," said Mark Calcavvechia.

Woods likes to keep his goals to himself but, on Sunday, his father indicated from his home in California that his next ambition is to become the first person to win all four majors in one year. Were this to happen, it would wipe out one season from the five years which Montgomerie believes he has left in which to win a major.

 

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