Yesterday’s blog entry became a column in today’s National Post.
Despite the hype, the slam remains unattainable
It never fails — every year, when a great golfer wins the green jacket at Augusta, some sportswriter starts spouting off about how the Grand Slam is attainable.
It took a day or two, but it is happening again. This time, everyone is talking about Tiger Woods’ chances of winning all four majors.
Many of these stories were authored by the same scribes who wrote Woods off after his opening round of 74 at Augusta. Woods couldn’t hit his driver straight, they wrote, and his putting looked questionable, especially after he whacked one into Rae’s Creek on the 13th.
Television commentators loved that one — showing Woods’ disgust as the ball rolled into water and bringing up questions about his decision to rework his swing under Hank Haney.
Two great rounds and one average 18 holes later and the same pundits are now claiming Woods is prepared to make a run that would better his great years of 2000 and 2001. Apparently, “The Slam” is ripe for the taking.
All of this seems to have more significance now, coming 75 years after Bobby Jones clinched the “impregnable quadrilateral” at Merion in Philadelphia.
But the reality is the Grand Slam is all but unattainable. The pressure on Woods, should he manage to even win the U.S. Open, will be unimaginable.
Jones, playing without the glare of the television, was so stressed that he dropped 10 pounds a tournament during his great run in 1930 and finished playing competitive golf immediately afterwards.
Even Jack Nicklaus never made a real run at the slam, though he did manage to win the first two majors of the year in 1972.
That’s a demonstration of just how hard it is to win golf’s four major titles in a single year. Nicklaus, the greatest player of all-time, couldn’t pull it off and he wasn’t facing the competition that Woods is up against.
Normally reticent Art Spander, who writes for golf Internet site Golfobserver.com, wrote yesterday that the courses for the rest of this year’s remaining three majors set up quite nicely for Woods.
Maybe he’s right. After all, long bombers will benefit at Pinehurst No.2 when it holds the U.S. Open in June because they will be able to approach the devilish greens with much shorter clubs.
The same can be said of the British Open at The Old Course at St. Andrews, which Woods polished off in 2000 by hitting over all of the fabled nefarious bunkers. Baltrusol, which hosts the PGA Championship in August, was once taken apart by a big hitter — but that was the Golden Bear in 1980. It is hard to say exactly how it will be set up 25 years later.
But Woods’ main competition these days is tougher than what Nicklaus or Jones faced in their day. Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els are also all capable of hitting the ball a mile, while offering deft putting strokes. Any of the three could handily win a major this year and deprive Tiger of a shot at the slam.
And the PGA Tour is much deeper than even the Fab Four. Witness Chris DiMarco’s run at Augusta over the weekend and at the PGA Championship last year. There are also more than a dozen other players capable of winning a major — Stuart Appleby and Adam Scott come to mind — demonstrating the depth of the tour.
Of course, any real chance Tiger has at winning all four majors comes down to the state of his game. Haney’s work on Woods’ swing plane hasn’t kept Tiger from missing the fairway more than 40% of the time. He got away with it at Augusta because the so-called “second cut” was short and didn’t restrict his ability to hit wedges into greens.
Don’t expect the same conditions at the U.S. Open, where the rough will be a tangled mess. To win the slam, Tiger will have to get his driver in shape and find the short grass more often.
On the other hand if his game is shaky in any area, the impregnable quadrilateral will continue to remain just about impossible.