Tiger St Andrews Ready for History To Be Made

By Associated PressJuly 9, 2005, 4:00 pm
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- The birthplace of golf is becoming a popular place to say goodbye.
Arnold Palmer struck a famous pose atop the small stone Swilcan Bridge at St. Andrews when he played his final British Open in 1995. It was a heartfelt tribute to the King, who resurrected American interest in golf's oldest championship and returned the Open to its place of prominence.
Next to cross that bridge for the last time will be Jack Nicklaus, who conquered the Old Course in 1970 and 1978 and has decided to make this British Open his final appearance in a major championship career that defined the modern standard of greatness.
And, in the middle of these amazing 10 years at St. Andrews, was Tiger Woods in 2000.
``Tiger said goodbye to us all in another way that year, didn't he?'' Ernie Els said with a laugh.
Indeed, Woods turned his back on the field and left everyone in his wake when the British Open last was held at St. Andrews, turning in a performance never before seen on these hallowed grounds.
He did not hit into a single trap over 72 holes, using sheer power to fly the ball beyond the punishing pot bunkers that serve as the best defense on the Old Course. When it was over, Woods became the youngest player (24) to complete the career Grand Slam, and his 19-under 269 remains the record score in relation to par at any major.
St. Andrews is loaded with history, and the home of golf is ripe with opportunity to make more when the 134th British Open returns to the Old Course for the 27th time starting Thursday.
``What makes this one so special?'' Adam Scott said. ``Jack's last major, what Tiger did there the last time and the fact that it's St. Andrews. There's something about that place that means more than any other.''
Woods has a history of winning majors when Nicklaus is on his way out.
He won by a record 15 shots at Pebble Beach when Nicklaus played in his final U.S. Open in 2000, and won the PGA Championship at Valhalla later that year while playing the first two rounds with the Golden Bear. Nicklaus said after missing the cut at the Masters this year he no longer would compete at Augusta National, and Woods went on to win in a playoff.
``I won on what was supposed to be his last farewell at St. Andrews (in 2000),'' Woods said. ``So hopefully, I can do it again. I've been pretty good on his farewells.''
Coming off a 2 1/2-year drought in the majors and his third swing change as a pro, Woods is doing just fine this season. Along with winning his fourth Masters and two PGA Tour events that featured some of the strongest fields of the year, he finished two shots behind Michael Campbell in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2.
``I've played well of late,'' Woods said while tuning up his game for links golf in Ireland. ``It's nice to have the pieces fall together at the right time for three majors in three months.''
Woods remains locked in a battle for No. 1 with Vijay Singh, who has played St. Andrews better than the other courses on the British Open rotation. For all the talk of a ``Big Five,'' they are starting to separate themselves.
Ernie Els was the runner-up at St. Andrews in 2000 and simply adores the Old Course. He was on the winning team twice at St. Andrews during his nine years playing the Dunhill Cup. Phil Mickelson finally found some success in the British Open last year, finishing one shot out of a playoff at Royal Troon. He already has spent two full days at St. Andrews, playing one round without any pins in the green.
All that's missing is a head-to-head showdown among the stars at a major. The only time any of them met in the final round this year was at Doral, where Woods rallied from a two-shot deficit to beat Mickelson.
``I am surprised we haven't had more head-to-head duels,'' Mickelson said. ``But I think we're going to have that at the British Open. I just have a feeling, the way the golf course is set up.''
The Old Course is not the same layout that Woods overwhelmed in 2000.
The Royal & Ancient has moved back five tees, adding 164 yards to the Old Course. No change is more daunting than on the par-5 14th, which has been extended from 581 yards in 2000 to 618 yards for this Open. That brings a series of bunkers called the ``Beardies'' into play off the tee, and the notorious Hell Bunker on the approach, especially if the wind is whipping off St. Andrews Bay.
``I don't know where in the world you're going to drive the ball. I have no idea,'' Nicklaus said. ``You've got the wall on the right and the Beardies on the left, and there's no place to hit it but there. And you can't hit it short of them, because there's no land.''
The R&A cited advances in technology for making the changes, but don't get the idea that better clubs, balls and players have ruined the Old Course. This is the 100-year anniversary of when bunkers were added and St. Andrews was lengthened to protect against the new rubber-core Haskell ball. Some things never change.
Woods has not seen the alterations to St. Andrews, but already he doesn't like them.
``I don't understand why they would do it,'' he said. ``They are so dependent on the weather. If the wind blows and you get bad weather, the guys are going to shoot high scores. But if you don't get any wind, like in 2000, everybody went low. That's the way St. Andrews is. It's not a very difficult course when the wind doesn't blow at all. When it does, you hope to shoot even par, because that would be a good score.''
Then again, Woods has reason to prefer that the Old Course stay how it was in 2000, when he led by six shots going into the final round and won by eight, the largest margin of victory at the British Open since 1913.
Mickelson noticed the difference during his two practice rounds, and it all made sense to him.
``A lot of the bunkers that were not in play in 2000 are in play this year,'' Mickelson said. ``That being the case, I would say that the changes have done exactly what they have hoped to accomplish, which is bring on No. 14 the Beardies bunkers and Hell Bunker in play. And they are very much in play.''
Despite all the changes to the course, and the battle at the top, the focus on this British Open is on Nicklaus.
About the only thing Nicklaus has failed to conquer in golf is learning how to retire graciously. He wishes now he had left tournament golf after winning the 1986 Masters at age 46 for his sixth green jacket. It was his last victory on the PGA Tour, and Nicklaus has gone from hoping to dreaming that he can compete.
``Sometime in my early '50s I felt like the game was passing me by,'' he said. ``It didn't pass me by, I fell back.''
At age 65, this is his final year of eligibility for the British Open, and he might not have played except that the R&A, knowing his love affair with St. Andrews, moved up the Old Course one year in the rotation to accommodate him.
He already has said he won't return to the Masters after an unceremonious departure this year - missing the cut, finishing on the ninth hole because of rain delays, not letting anyone know until after he signed his card.
Just like Palmer in 1995, Nicklaus will pause atop the Swilcan Bridge in what is sure to be an emotional moment.
And, by the end of the tournament, the winner will cross that bridge, hoist the silver claret jug and become part of the rich history that St. Andrews always seems to deliver.
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