ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- Greatness is in our midst, the most significant sports figure of our time performing in our presence. We should embrace his triumphs, applaud them, feel fortunate to be a witness to history.
After claiming the Claret Jug on Sunday at the Old Course in another example of a coronation rather than a competition, Tiger Woods has made it even more clear that nobody casts a shadow over a sport -- his or any other -- quite as large.
He has the aura of Muhammad Ali, without the arrogance. He has the killer instinct of Michael Jordan, with no teammates necessary. He creates a stir like the Beatles, even if carrying a tune is not required.
We can sing his praises.
Why? Because such domination, in any sport, is rare. Golf, especially, is not used to seeing one player consistently claim the hardware.
With his Open Championship victory at St. Andrews on Sunday, Woods is now the youngest player to complete a career Grand Slam, winning all four modern major championships -- Masters, U.S. Open, British Open, PGA Championship -- by the age of 24. He joins Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus as the only players in history to do so.
A month after winning by the widest margin ever in a major championship, 15 shots at the U.S. Open, Woods arrived at the home of golf and went lower than any other player has gone at a major, 19-under par.
"He plays golf supernaturally," said Tom Watson, the last player to win both the U.S. Open and British Open in the same year.
You think that's not a feat? Watson was at the height of his powers in 1982, but needed a miraculous chip-in for birdie on the 71st hole to defeat Nicklaus at the 1982 U.S. Open, then a final-round collapse by Nick Price to claim the Open Championship a month later.
Woods won the two tournaments by a combined 23 shots, never tied over the final 36 holes at two of the most revered venues in the game, Pebble Beach and St. Andrews.
"To complete the (career) Grand Slam at his age is frightening, but all credit to him," said six-time major championship winner Nick Faldo. "He's found a way to do it. At the moment, he is probably stronger than Nicklaus was."
"You look at the people who have done it," Watson said of the Grand Slam. "They are all great players. I think it is very significant."
Price had been the only player to win consecutive majors since Watson, capturing the 1994 British Open and PGA Championship. But by the time the 1995 Masters rolled around, he was spent, crushed by the weight of expectations.
Meanwhile, Woods appears immune to such pressure.
"I just really enjoy watching him play golf," Price said. "He's learned more in his 24 years than I've learned in 43."
Perhaps the numbers are making us numb. Woods now has 21 PGA Tour victories, more than any other active player who is not a senior. He is tied with the likes of Player and Lanny Wadkins, just one behind Raymond Floyd.
It was his 13th PGA Tour victory in 23 starts and he's finished out of the top-20 just three times in 16 months.
Yawn if you wish, but this is anything but routine.
"It wasn't that long ago that I said there would never be another Jack Nicklaus," said Mark Calcavecchia. "But we're looking at one. He is it. He is the chosen one."
For all his success, Nicklaus won back-to-back majors just once in his career. Five times, he won multiple majors in a season. He never won more than two in a year, something Woods has a chance to do next month at the PGA Championship, joining Ben Hogan as the only player to accomplish the feat.
It was only a few years ago, after his record-setting Masters triumph, when Woods began the process of revamping his game. He struggled at several majors, unable to mount a charge.
Plenty of observers wondered if he would ever be able to harness his length, control his emotions, play smart. They wondered if all the hype was justified.
Seems silly now.
"The sad thing is, you can't control him," said Paul Azinger. "It's not like boxing -- unless you want to fight on the first tee, which we don't because it's a gentleman's game."
And Woods treats it as such. He is courteous to opponents, deferential to the game's legends. He has overcome some immaturity early in his career, and strains to surround himself with those who will do nothing to harm his image.
Woods keeps his caddie, Steve Williams, and girlfriend, Joanna Jagoda, out of the spotlight. Nobody gets the chance to interview them, to find out Tiger tidbits. He's been known to tell off-color jokes, but has kept them out of the public ear since a damaging magazine interview a few years ago.
Money, of course, will never be an issue again. With some $17 million in PGA Tour prize money, $100 million-plus in endorsements, Woods is on his way to becoming the first $1 billion man in sports.
"I sometimes sit around and wonder how in the world a young guy who has signed $100 million worth of contracts and has won as much as he has can, still come out and be a pretty likable guy," Hal Sutton said. "Tiger handles himself well. I don't see how any of the other players can be jealous.
"With the way he has made a lot of people sit up and watch golf, he has put a lot of money into other players' pockets. I, for one, feel grateful for that. Tiger's a good guy who's done it."
And yet he still has the drive to succeed.
We are lucky to watch.
|Tiger Woods now has 21 career PGA Tour victories, more than any active player.|
Bob Harig, who covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times, writes a column every Tuesday for ESPN Golf Online.