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December 06, 2001

Tiger Woods: What's next?
By Dan Patrick

There is really no need to go over the details of this year's British Open. Tiger Woods was 19-under par.

One thing that is clear about Woods is that he has a fifth gear that no one else in golf has. (So does Lance Armstrong but that's another story.) Tiger can simply take his game to a level the other players can only wonder about. And the scary part is that Woods and Butch Harmon honestly feel that Tiger is roughly 75 percent of the golfer he can become.

 Tiger Woods
Woods became the youngest player in history to win all four major championships.

All of this astounding success means that Tiger Woods is like UCLA basketball in the 1960s and 1970s. He's going to win and you either like it or you don't. His dominance is such right now that when he does not win, there should be an inquiry.

Right now, I wonder about two things concerning Tiger Woods:

1. Can he keep this up?
On the heels of his shocking margins of victory at Pebble Beach and St. Andrews, Tiger is so good that no one will be surprised if he wins the PGA by a record number of strokes. So, despite what he and Butch think, he can only slip in terms of performance.

And after you've hoisted enough trophies, you don't have much to prove to yourself or the world. A few years down the road, Tiger may feel like Michael Jordan did when he won his first three titles. Jordan was able to walk away from the NBA. He didn't stay away but he sought a different challenge for a while.

So, I wonder if there are enough players who can really push him. Jack Nicklaus had true rivals: Arnold Palmer ( 8 major wins), Gary Player ( 9 majors) and Tom Watson (8 majors). And Lee Trevino won his six majors during Nicklaus' prime. Along with his 18 wins in majors, Nicklaus finished second 19 times. There were players who could beat him at the big events and they did. A lot people are pushing Nicklaus and his 18 wins at the majors aside, as if Tiger will pass him by Christmas. Nicklaus' achievement was a career of sustained excellence. His rivals played a big part in keeping Nicklaus' competitive fires burning into his mid-forties. Tiger is just starting. However astoundingly, he is just starting. It might not be enough if, after five more years of this cruising, Tiger's only rival is Nicklaus himself. To me, if the only question before each major is "How much will he win by?", Woods could lose interest just like Jordan did.

And while Tiger may play in a deeper field than Nicklaus did -- I wonder if it's a better field? Woods missed the great years of Greg Norman, Nick Faldo and Nick Price. Can Vijay Singh and Ernie Els push him? A win by Singh or Els at the PGA would really establish one of them as a true rival. And a win by David Duval, Phil Mickelson or Colin Montgomerie would at least get them into the conversation. Also, in this paragraph, have I mentioned a player who is really an all-time great or even on the way to becoming one, other than Tiger? Faldo, yes. Singh and Els? Not yet.

2. When will the Tiger backlash start and how bad will it get?
Check back Wednesday for that answer.

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