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GOLF THOMAS BONK

Don't Be Shocked to See Tiger Iron Out Wrinkles

June 12, 2003|THOMAS BONK

OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. — It has been a year since Tiger Woods won a major. Imagine that. Woods loves to say that it's a great year if you win one major championship, so by the end of the week, here's how we are going to look back at the U.S. Open:

It's going to be a great year for Tiger Woods.

He already has won the U.S. Open twice, so everyone realizes Woods knows how to win it. What's more, it won't surprise a single person if Tiger bags a third one here at Olympia Fields Country Club.

Right from the start, it's clear we know more about Woods than we do about the Olympia Fields course. It seems friendly enough, an old-style, tree-lined layout, located a mere 27 stops from the main downtown train station in Chicago.

Once he finds his way, Woods won't hit his driver any more than four or five times at Olympia Fields, which isn't overly long and not necessarily difficult.

The course, in other words, is room service for Tiger.

There are some deep thinkers who remain unshakable in their opinion that a more benign U.S. Open setup, such as the one at Olympia Fields, allows more players into the mix than the typically toxic design they all know and loathe.

Others have made the case for a potential triumph by a plodder, and even Woods admitted the Open makes you play that way. You drive it into the rough, you hack it out, you find the green, you hope for par. It is part of the USGA tradition, same as bow ties, khaki slacks, white shirts and blue sports coats.

The questions, then, are these.

If the course isn't as difficult as it usually is, doesn't that favor the best player in the world?

If the Open is becoming plodder city, isn't the player who has won the tournament twice in the last four years the most proven plodder?

Can we get a makeover on the clothes right away?

Make no mistake about it, the favorite doesn't always win, at the U.S. Open or anywhere else. If the guy who was supposed to win actually won it every time, Woods would have claimed about 22 majors instead of the eight he has.

Other players are capable of playing great at the right time, which is what Mike Weir did at the Masters and Ernie Els at the British Open and Rich Beem at the PGA Championship.

Look at it this way. Since 1994, the combined number of majors won by that trio is still three short of Tiger's total of major championships.

Beginning with the 1997 Masters, where Woods introduced himself as the era's most dominant player in its biggest tournaments, only Els and Vijay Singh have won as many as two major championships while Woods has won eight.

How that translates into No. 9 for Woods here at Olympia Fields is open for discussion.

Woods doesn't allow himself to bog down in the result, only the process, or what you do to get there. The brain coaches who work with pro golfers tell you that's the proper way to focus. Tiger comes by that way of thinking naturally. It's instinctive, as automatic for him as a five-iron to kick-in distance.

Last week, Woods prepared himself for the U.S. Open by spending some time in Las Vegas with swing coach Butch Harmon, then played Big Canyon Country Club in Newport Beach with Stanford buddy Jerry Chang.

Harmon told Woods his swing was just fine and to keep on doing what he was doing. Coaches are like that. As for what Chang told Woods, probably to stay away from bleaching his hair again. Friends are like that.

Woods has gone about his business this week, keeping an extremely low profile, which is not that easy for him. He has practiced early, left early, limited his access to the media to one mass news conference and stayed out of the spotlight as much as possible.

There are unconfirmed reports that Woods is staying in a Holiday Inn this week. Next, we will find out that he is hitchhiking to the course wearing a pair of cut-off blue jeans and flip-flops.

If all goes well the rest of the week, Woods will be wearing one of his megawatt smiles and hoisting some serious U.S. Open hardware. It is helpful to remember that nothing is guaranteed, certainly not at Olympia Fields, clearly not at the U.S. Open.

It may also be helpful to remember that Woods is still golf's great star in ascent. He has not leveled off. Those closest to him say he is playing as well as ever. That means more major championships, possibly as soon as Sunday.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Tiger Woods in 2003

*--* How he has ROUNDS fared: DATE TOURNAMENT Pos 1 2 3 4 Total To Ear par nin gs Feb. 16 Buick Invitational 1 70 66 68 68 272 -16 $81 0,0 00 Feb. 23 Nissan Open T5 72 68 73 65 278 -6 $17 1,0 00 March 2 Match Play 1 -- -- -- -- -- -- $1, Championship 050 ,00 0 March 23 Bay Hill 1 70 65 66 68 269 -19 $81 Invitational 0,0 00 March 30 The Players T11 72 70 68 72 282 -6 $13 Championship 3,2 50 April 13 The Masters T15 76 73 66 75 290 +2 $93 ,00 0 June 1 The Memorial T4 67 71 76 65 279 -9 $22 Tournament 0,0 00 No 1 2 3 T5 T25 Cut Ear nin gs Tournament 7 3 0 0 5 7 0 $3, totals: 287 ,25 0

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