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PGA: Stephen Ames coasts to six shot win
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Tiger may be forced to change game

When Tiger Woods arrives in Kent for the Open Championship at Royal St George's, it will be the first time since August 1999 that he is plain ol' Eldrick Woods, not Tiger, the defending champion of a major.

On Sunday Jim Furyk, an estimable family man but not previously mentioned as a possible great, won the US Open and Woods, who once held all four major titles at the same time, now holds none of them.

Furyk, a bland man for a bland golf course, took his chance well. He three-putted the final green, but only because he could have taken five and still won, and otherwise played safely and solidly, his unique swing standing up well to the most extreme pressure he will ever feel on a course.

When he finally tapped in, he was surrounded by his mother, father and wife and was handed his daughter Caleigh, who will be one next week. It made a lovely picture and one that should be given a place of prominence in the family album, for it may not be repeated.

Woods can only have looked on longingly. Not only has he declared his desire to get married and have a family, he also coveted what Furyk had taken away from him, the US Open trophy. Woods won it with some fantastic golf at Bethpage Black last year; this year he is nowhere near emulating that calibre of play.

He was so bad at Olympia Fields, a mediocre course 20 miles from downtown Chicago, that there is a danger he may be forced into changing his mind, something that is anathema to this very proud young man.

He had no plans to play in this week's Buick Classic because, as he has said repeatedly, he is too exhausted by the effort he makes in every major championship. But two things indicate that he may go to Westchester.

The first and most important is that he realises he has to find a way of getting the ball on the fairway more consistently. He finished last week's event with a driving distance average of 302 yards, but only 60% finished on the short stuff, and that is not acceptable when having to contend with major championship rough.

Because of his immense strength and ability to generate incredible clubhead speed he was able to hit 68% of greens in regulation - but that is not ideal either for a man with the tag of world No1.

Woods has made some highly publicised and extremely highly paid equipment changes over the past 12 months, and the infinite pains taken over everything he uses ought to have ensured at least parity with the equipment he left behind.

It may, of course, be a coincidence that he has not recently won a major. But equally, it may not and at least one member of Tiger's entourage has spoken about the possibility of reinstating the Titleist driver that he used so effectively in the past. He already has a Titleist three-wood in the bag and in the Deutsche Bank event in Hamburg four weeks ago he apparently experimented with a Taylor Made driver.

It seems obvious that there is a problem, but there is also a problem admitting it, for Woods has been paid mega-millions by Nike to lend his name to their equipment and has said publicly that he would not have changed unless he had found something better. How that squares with recent performances is hard to imagine.

The second reason for going to the Buick (apart from a third, which is that that company sponsors him) is that he has simply not played enough competitively this year. He spent time over the winter having a knee operated on and that prevented him from playing until late February. Prior to the US Open he had played only seven tournaments and, as he loved to point out, won three of them.

But there is no rough like championship rough and it will not be any part of the Woods career plan to win lots of lesser events on lesser courses. His life is dedicated to the winning of majors - at the very least 18 of them, to equal the record set by Jack Nicklaus - and with eight to his name already, and at the age of 27, he has the time and the ability to do so.

But he would do well to re-establish his dominance quickly. This week's Buick Classic is one of three sponsored annually by that com pany and there is a bonus prize of $1m for any player that completes a "Buick slam".

The only man who can do that this year is Chris DiMarco, a good player who almost got into the last United States Ryder Cup team. He won the Buick Invitational in February and when he heard that Woods might play this week in the Classic his immediate reaction was not "oh dear", it was: "If he wants to win it, he's got to get past me first."

That is hardly the respect that Woods has been accorded in the past and perhaps indicates that other players on the US Tour now see him as a less formidable force than once he was.

It may be time for Woods to get down to some hard, but basic, competitive work and, when he gets to Royal St George's, to remind everyone that not only is he the greatest player in the game, but that he could become the greatest to have ever played golf.

· Jim Furyk's victory the US Open has guaranteed the American a shot at the £1m first prize in the World Match Play at Wentworth in October. Furyk joins Tiger Woods, the defending champion Ernie Els and the US Masters winner Mike Weir in the field for the £2.3m event, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.

The other eight competitors will be selected from the 10 leading players from the HSBC major championships ranking, which has a points system designed to ensure all four major winners qualify.

 

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