Winning a Major Is Tough Nut to Crack

RSS

SANDWICH, England (AP) -- Once it was discovered that Masters champion Mike Weir and U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk were born on the same day, the search began for the logical -- or astrological -- candidate to win the British Open.
 
It turns out that Andrew Coltart of Scotland also was born on May 12, 1970.
 
Better yet, he sounds a lot like Sean Connery, who played British agent James Bond in ``Goldfinger.'' Early in that movie, 007 won a gold bar by beating the nefarious Goldfinger in a match played at none other than Royal St. George's.
 
Now all Coltart has to do is qualify for the British Open.
 
OK, it's a stretch.
 
Still, it illustrates that more players than ever seem capable of winning a major.
 
Weir and Furyk joined the list this year, the first time since 1992 that players who had never won a major captured the first two.
 
Not long ago, Tiger Woods had the major market cornered by winning four in a row and seven out of 11, a streak that ended with his U.S. Open victory last year at Bethpage.
 
Woods shot down speculation about a slump by winning the Western Open for his fourth victory of the season, and he again is an overwhelming favorite to win the British Open.
 
``It's certainly a shot of confidence, there's no doubt about it,'' he said. ``The things I've been working on are starting to come together. Hopefully, they'll come together more so at the British Open.''
 
Still, Woods goes to the eccentric links of Royal St. George's without a major trophy at his home in Florida for the first time in four years.
 
Some attribute the parity to technology, the hottest issue in golf this year.
 
No one is more bothered about it than Woods, who was the point man in urging the PGA Tour to test drivers that might have too much pop. Woods has talked about an unidentified player who he believes is using a hot driver.
 
The fact is, everyone is hitting it longer.
 
``The moderate hitters can drive it 285 yards,'' two-time British Open champion Greg Norman said. ``The long hitter in my day was 285. It's getting harder and harder to win majors because more players are grouped together. You don't have the separation.''
 
Woods, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh used to have an enormous advantage, especially on the par 5s, since they were in that elite group of players who could hit the ball a mile and have a decent idea where it was going.
 
Woods had never finished lower than third in driving distance on the PGA Tour until he dipped to sixth last year, and now he isn't even in the top 20.
 
``He has no advantage on the par 5s at all,'' Robert Allenby said. ``There are guys that are whipping it past him.''
 
With more players able to reach the par 5s, or hitting short irons into the par 4s, the premium shifts to accuracy (Furyk at Olympia Fields) and making every putt (Weir at Augusta National).
 
Length likely won't be an issue at the British Open, especially at Royal St. George's.
 
Golf's oldest championship returns to the seaside town of Sandwich for the first time in 10 years, and the '93 British Open should give some indication that the course suits more than one particular style of golf.
 
Norman, the premier driver of his day, won with a record score of 267. Also in the mix were such short hitters as Bernhard Langer and Corey Pavin, strategists such as Nick Faldo, shotmakers such as Nick Price, and power players such as Fred Couples and a young Els.
 
There's one other peculiar note about Royal St. George's.
 
It was the first British Open where the champion never broke 80 -- J.H. Taylor in 1894. And it was the first where the champion shot all four rounds in the 60s -- Norman, nearly a century later.
 
``It's a quirky golf course,'' Norman said. ``You have to run these shots to the green, and on some of them you don't even see the flag. You've got to trust where you're going. It's probably the quirkiest golf course we play, but it tests all parts of your game.''
 
What awaits the 132nd version of golf's oldest championship depends on the weather, typical of any British Open.
 
``If the weather is good, guys shoot 15 under par,'' Furyk said. ``If the weather is bad, we shoot even par. It seems like weather dictates the score rather than the setup.''
 
Weather certainly got the best of Woods last year.
 
Two strokes out of the lead going into the weekend, he shot an 81 in wicked wind and rain that blew sideways. It was his worst score as a pro and ended his hopes of winning the third leg of the calendar Grand Slam.
 
Woods hasn't won another major since then, which is hardly cause for alarm and nowhere near a slump. Jack Nicklaus was 27 when he went 12 majors without winning.
 
Halfway through the year, however, Woods has a long list of challenger.
 
Along with his green jacket, Weir has won two other PGA Tour events and leads the money list. Davis Love III also has won three times, while Singh, Els, Kenny Perry and David Toms each have won twice.
 
Els has added three other victories worldwide to his total, including a five-stroke win Sunday at the Scottish Open.
 
``Since he has dominated the last few years, I think it's probably good what's going on,'' Toms said. ``He's not winning 75 percent of the tournaments, or whatever. He's still playing great golf. He's still the guy to beat. But I think it's good for our game right now that other guys are having some success.''
 
Woods has another record in reach at Royal St. George's -- a chance to join Nicklaus as the only players to won the each of the majors at least twice.
 
Nicklaus did it three times on his way to 18 professional majors.
 
No matter who's playing well -- a list that still starts with Woods -- winning almost always depends on good bounces along the links, a small margin that decides whether a ball hops into a pot bunker or toward the flag.
 
``If you're not comfortable with it, if you don't like that style, you've lost of the battle already,'' Furyk said. ``You have to realize it's going to be tough on everyone. Everyone else is going to make mistakes, too. You have to be in control emotionally.''
 
Only six of the top 20 players in the world ranking have played Royal St. George's, so not many are sure what to expect, or what kind of conditions will greet them.
 
``It doesn't really suit the long hitter because of the angle on the doglegs,'' Norman said. ``If it's firm and fast, it's anybody's game.''
 
Especially if Andrew Coltart gets into the field.
 
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.