| ||Monday, July 24|
U.S. sports stars shined in rare alignment
On one side of the English Channel, Lance Armstrong so far outpaced the pack over a 2,250-mile course that his victory was conceded days ahead of time. On the other, Tiger Woods brought something new to St. Andrews' Old Course -- a triumph so complete that he was playing against history, not the field. Their mastery of the Tour de France and the British Open left adversaries and fans of these American stars reaching for superlatives. "It's not really human what he does," said Corbett Wood, a mountain bicyclist in Armstrong's hometown of Austin, Texas. Armstrong won his second consecutive Tour, beating second-place finisher Jan Ullrich by 6 minutes, 2 seconds. "He is the chosen one. He's the best player who has played the game right now," golfer Mark Calcavecchia said after Woods became the youngest golfer ever to win golf's career grand slam, and only the fifth in history. "Supernatural," five-time Open winner Tom Watson added of Woods' victory. Woods finished at 19-under 269, eight shots ahead of his nearest competitor. That's the best score against par in major championship history, and the largest margin of victory in the British Open since 1913. Just last month, he made a mockery of the U.S. Open, winning by 15 strokes. But Sunday's victory was special. Woods -- the nontraditional golfer, son of a black man and a Thai woman -- has a deep appreciation of golf's traditions. "This is the home of golf," he said. "This is where you always want to win. To have a chance to complete the slam at St. Andrews is pretty special. I was able to bring it home." Of course, Americans have won the British Open before. Twenty Americans have won it 33 times in the 127 years the event has been played. The first, Walter Hagen, won it four times in the 1920s. The '20s are often called the golden age of sports, the time of Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey, Bill Tilden and Red Grange. Bobby Jones was the golfer of that age. In 1930, he won all four events of what was then the grand slam -- the U.S. and British Opens, the U.S. and British Amateurs -- and then retired. But a case could be made that we are in another golden age. We have seen Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky, Tiger Woods and ... well, Lance Armstrong. His sport is not considered a sport at all in his home country, but a way to get to the grocery store. No American even placed in the world's greatest bicycling event, the Tour de France, until 1984, when Greg LeMond took third. LeMond won the Tour in 1986, 1989 and 1990. A giant? No, says Armstrong. "I'm not a superstar, I'm a regular guy." A regular guy who overcame testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain, and then battled to win the 1999 Tour de France. "It's still my biggest ambition, the fight against cancer," Armstrong said Sunday. "It's nice to win the Tour de France, and to win it a second time, but this is something that will be going on when I'm 50." There were naysayers who pointed out that the 1997 champion, Ullrich, and the 1998 champion, Marco Pantani, did not compete in 1999. This year, they did. And he beat them. "Armstrong is a worthy champion. He was the strongest man, and he met our every attack. He earned his victory," Ullrich said Sunday. Armstrong and Woods have met -- they're both under contract to Nike. "Of all the ... sporting superstars that I've met," Armstrong said, "I can honestly say that he was the most excited to meet Lance Armstrong. It was strange. I mean I met all of them, and he was genuinely excited, and that surprised me." Because Armstrong doesn't think of himself as an immortal, not like Woods. "Perhaps it's his sport but he's much more consistent than I have been or than a cyclist can possibly be," he said Saturday. "But clearly he's the best golfer in the world. Nobody would argue that. And I don't know that by winning the Tour de France you can say that you're the best cyclist in the world." He will have an opportunity to prove just that in September, at the Olympics in Sydney, Australia. Woods is only 24, with a long career ahead. Perhaps he will contest Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 victories in major events. Or perhaps he will be the first to win all four modern grand slam events -- the two Opens, the Masters and the PGA Championship -- in a single year. But chances are, he and Armstrong will never again share the spotlight, as they did on two sides of the English Channel on a historic July day.