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Tiger Woods almost could be set for Grand Slam

If only Tiger Woods could have a do-over on those two shots at Pinehurst.

Then think what might have been.

Woods coasted to a five-stroke victory Sunday and his second major championship of 2005, winning the Open at the home of golf after taking the Masters in April.

If he hadn't flubbed a chip and missed a short putt at the U.S. Open last month, Woods could be going for the Grand Slam at the PGA Championship next month.

``That's just the way it goes,'' Woods said, thinking back to his runner-up finish to Michael Campbell at Pinehurst. ``I just didn't have a very good putting week. It happened at the wrong time.''

Woods' timing was right on at the Old Course.

He took control with a 66-67 start, scrambled Saturday when a couple of shots wound up in the bushes, then finished it off with a 2-under 70 -- the only player in the final seven groups to break par on a day when the ocean breezes picked up and the flagsticks were flapping in some devilish locations.

``It was Tiger's week,'' said Campbell, who held on for a two-stroke win in the U.S. Open but finished seven shots back at this Open.

Make no mistake -- Woods is back, looking just as dominating as he did at the start of the millennium.

``It's amazing,'' said Scotsman Colin Montgomerie, the popular runner-up at St. Andrews. ``Can he achieve the impossible? He's on his way.''

Two days after Jack Nicklaus bade a teary farewell to the majors, stopping to pose atop the Swilcan Bridge on his way up the 18th hole, Woods passed over the hallowed stone arch with purpose in his step.

While the Grand Slam is out reach -- for now -- he did wrap up the ``Nicklaus Slam,'' going 4-for-4 when the Golden Bear played in golf's biggest events for the last time.

Woods became just the third player to win 10 major professional titles, passing the halfway mark on the way to Nicklaus' record of 18. The only guy in between, Walter Hagen at 11.

Just as they did on Friday for Nicklaus, thousands of fans squeezed onto balconies and pressed their faces against windows to capture a historic moment. This one remains a work in progress.

Nicklaus watched the final round from his home in North Palm Beach, Fla.

``He never looked like there was a chance for him to lose,'' he said. ``It was a pretty awesome performance.''

Woods and Nicklaus are the only players to win the career Grand Slam two times over, and the only Americans to win the British Open twice at storied St. Andrews.

``There's a lot of things that make him special,'' said Woods' swing coach, Hank Haney. ``Like all great champions, he can raise his game when he needs to.''

Woods turned to Haney to help overhaul his swing for the second time, looking to dominate the way he did on the way to winning seven times in 11 majors starting with the 1999 PGA Championship.

``I've been criticized for the last couple of years. 'Why would I change my game?' This is why,'' Woods said. ``First, second and first in the last three majors. That's why.''

Woods had a star-studded group behind him on Sunday -- major winners, highly ranked players, seasoned vets who knew their way around this revered patch of Scottish seaside.

None made a serious charge. None seem capable of beating Woods when he's at his best.

``I don't think it's impossible,'' said Jose Maria Olazabal, who played in the final group with Woods and wound up six strokes behind. ``But it's close to impossible.''

Woods will go to Baltusrol as an overwhelming favorite to pull even with Hagen and win three majors in a year for the second time -- not bad for a guy who's still five months away from his 30th birthday.

Woods already claimed the ``Tiger Slam,'' becoming the only golfer to hold all four major titles at the same time. But it wasn't a Slam in the purest sense, since he won the last three titles of 2000 and didn't win the Masters until the following year.

But this guy tends to get whatever he wants, whether it's the Nicklaus record that everyone thought was untouchable or the modern Grand Slam, which has never been done.

``Jack's got 18, now I have 10,'' Woods said. ``When I first started playing, I didn't think I'd have this many majors before the age of 30. There's no way. No one ever has.''

That's why he turned to Haney to work on a swing that already seemed flawless. It was a grueling, frustrating process that led to Woods going 10 majors without a win, equaling the worst drought of his pro career.

It paid off in the end -- and everyone else finds themselves playing for second.


``It's no disgrace finishing second to Tiger Woods,'' said Montgomerie, cheered on all day by flag-waving Scottish fans but unable to mount a charge on Woods.

The winner never trailed over the final 63 holes, turning in the first wire-to-wire victory at the Open in 32 years. The ``Big Five'' everyone talked about at the start of the year is down to one.

Montgomerie didn't seem too upset about the outcome. At least his career is back on track after he seriously contended in a major for the first time since the 1997 U.S. Open.

``My career has been longer than most,'' Montgomerie said. ``It's nice that it's having a little bit of a resurgence now after three years really in the wilderness.''

Woods never drifted that far off course, but the decision to tinker with his swing did make him vulnerable in the majors.

``He just wanted to get a plan,'' Haney said. ``He never asked low long it was going to take, or when are we going to get there.''

Is Woods there yet?

``I don't think there is a 'there,' `` Haney said. ``That's the great thing about him.''


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