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Tiger Woods turns 30

Now he is entering his own golden years, Tiger Woods's sights are firmly fixed on eclipsing the man known as the Golden Bear.

Woods, who celebrates his 30th birthday on Friday, became only the second player after Jack Nicklaus to win each of the major championships at least twice when he landed the British Open at St Andrews in July.

But it is Nicklaus's dazzling record of 18 major titles and his widely regarded status as the greatest player in the history of the game that are Woods's real targets.

Even though he has already surpassed all his expectations by collecting 10 grand slam victories, moving up to third place in the all-time standings behind Nicklaus and Walter Hagen (11), Woods knows golfing immortality is within his grasp.

"Man, I tell you what, when I first started playing the tour, I didn't think I'd have this many majors before the age of 30. There's no way. No one ever has," the American told reporters after his victory at St Andrews.

"Usually the golden years are in your 30s for a golfer. Hopefully that will be the case for me."

Woods first caused a stir when he shot 48 for nine holes at the tender age of three.

He became the youngest winner of the U.S. amateur as an 18-year-old before going on to become the first man to win three consecutive U.S. amateur titles.

Woods's breakthrough triumph in a major came at the 1997 U.S. Masters. Not only did he become the youngest winner of the famous Green Jacket, his 12-shot margin of victory is also the largest in Augusta National history.

Over the course of the next eight years, Woods played a brand of aggressive golf rarely seen before on the international stage to accumulate three more Green Jackets, two U.S. Opens, two British Opens and two U.S. PGA championships.

His playing peers now believe that if anyone can surpass Nicklaus's achievements, Tiger can.

"I played with him in the U.S. Open in 1995 at Shinnecock Hills and there was a lot of raw talent there," said Zimbabwean Nick Price, who won the 1994 British Open and the 1992 and 1994 U.S. PGA championships.

"Over the last two or three years, every time I've played with him it seems like he's just rounding off an edge here or there. I think he's going to continue to improve, too.

"It's just a question of...can he keep going like Nicklaus did?," added former world number one Price.

"The way he looks right now, he'll be able to. My hat's off to him."

Britain's Colin Montgomerie, an eight-times European number one, said: "You have to beat Tiger (in the majors these days).

"If he stays fit and healthy, he has 10 of these majors now and we all know Jack had 18 and Tiger's over halfway now. It's amazing.

"Can Tiger achieve the impossible? He's on his way and all credit to him."

December 30, 2005

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