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65TH MASTERS

Woods May Be Having Delusions of Grandeur

Golf: Tiger says it will be a Grand Slam if he wins this week, but others say no.

April 05, 2001|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

AUGUSTA, Ga. — What is the hardest thing to do at the Masters? Chances are we will find out this week.

Is it . . .

* Keeping your ball dry at the 12th hole?

* Finding a parking space on Washington Road?

* Finding a street corner that doesn't have a Waffle House?

* Getting your putts to drop on greens so fast the flagsticks have checkered flags?

* Figuring out if Tiger Woods wins, is it a Grand Slam?

At the very least, it's an interesting debate, especially in a sport in which history is ritual, on a course co-designed by the patron saint of golf named Jones, in the first and most pristine major of the year, at a time when the topic of golf's Grand Slam could be dominated by only a single player.

Of course, that would be Tiger Woods, the once and--everybody says--future champion, the person voted most likely to succeed in every tournament he plays.

Now, consider the venue. We're not saying that the Augusta National Golf Club lays it on a little thick in the history department, but the Grand Slam name himself, Robert Tyre Jones Jr., is listed at the top of the club letterhead, as president in perpetuity. (Clifford Roberts is listed right there under Jones as chairman in memoriam.)

So, it seems only fitting that Woods has a chance to make history--of some kind--at such a tradition-rich place as Augusta National if he wins the 65th Masters tournament starting today on some of the most famous real estate in golf.

For those of you not keeping score at home, here is what's going on:

Woods has won the last three majors--the 2000 U.S. Open, the 2000 British Open and the 2000 PGA Championship. If he wins the 2001 Masters, that's all four major championships. In a row. Consecutively.

But not in the same year.

So does that make it a Grand Slam?

Positively maybe.

Tiger thinks so, but only sort of:

"I would only consider it [a Grand Slam] because I was holding all four at the same time.

"There's two thoughts: Obviously, one, you've got to do it in the calendar year, which I'm positively not going to deny. It's a harder one to do because you have to win the Masters to start off with. Or you can get hot during the summer, which I did, and continue throughout the entire summer and hopefully turn it on again in the spring.

"If I win the Masters, hopefully it will be considered the Slam. And in my estimation, it would be, because I would hold all four at the same time."

So, in Tiger's estimation, it's not the Grand Slam at all, but it's clearly the Grand Slam.

That really clears it up.

No one has ever won all four of the modern majors in one calendar year. The idea that there were four modern major golf tournaments and that winning them all would constitute a Grand Slam didn't even occur to anybody until 1960, 30 years after Jones had won his Grand Slam--the U.S. and British Opens and the U.S. and British Amateurs.

But a modern slam didn't exist until sportswriter Bob Drum, a buddy of Arnold Palmer, dreamed it up, with Palmer's cooperation.

Palmer had already won the 1960 Masters when he won the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills in Denver, closing with a 65 and beating an amateur named Jack Nicklaus by two shots.

Before the British Open at St. Andrews, Drum presented the idea of a modern Grand Slam, winning all four in one year, which Palmer had the chance to do. It was a public relations ploy, but the idea caught on quickly. Unfortunately for Palmer, Kel Nagle ruined his chance for the new Grand Slam, beating him by a shot at St. Andrews. Then Palmer tied for seventh in the 1960 PGA Championship at Firestone Country Club.

Even the original Grand Slam was a clever bit of PR. When Jones, an amateur, won the four biggest tournaments that golf had to offer in 1930, the feat was dubbed the "Grand Slam" by his Boswell, Atlanta sportswriter O.B. Keeler.

But the modern Grand Slam? There was no Masters until 1934, and the PGA Championship wasn't included in any list of "major" golf tournaments until Drum and Palmer anointed it as such.

Woods already has a "career Grand Slam," a feat he accomplished last summer with his record 19-under total in the British Open at St. Andrews. His eight-shot victory over Thomas Bjorn made him the youngest player to have won all four major championships--at 24 years 6 months and 23 days.

Nicklaus was 26 when he completed his "career" Slam in 1966. He and Woods, Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan and Gary Player are the only players to have won all four major pro titles in their careers.

But four in one year? Hasn't happened.

Ben Hogan was the closest. He won the first three majors of 1953--the Masters, the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club and the British Open at Carnoustie, but he did not enter the PGA, which conflicted with the British Open.

Nicklaus came close a couple of times. In 1966, he won the Masters, but was third at the U.S. Open won by Billy Casper, then won the British Open but tied for 22nd at the PGA.

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