2005: British Open - Woods’ off-tee play receives sterling reviews

St. Andrews, Scotland

In the past year, coach Hank Haney and caddie Steve Williams have witnessed tantalizing performances in masterful ballstriking by Tiger Woods. Tantalizing, or teasing, in that often times these closed-circuit “shows” have been acted out on the confines of the practice tee, like some promising play that shines off Broadway.

“We’d seen all these ‘Coming Attractions,’ ” said Haney, the Texas-based instructor who has been in the theater with Woods, working on and rehearsing his revamped swing, for 16 months. “It’s like, when is this going to be released?”

How about Sunday, St. Andrews, the Old Course – only the Home of Golf – and the 134th British Open, as Woods slammed the door on the field with one of those eureka ballstriking days, the kind he envisions when he toils under the broiling Florida sun for so many tireless hours back home at Isleworth.

After Sunday, you’d have to have your head buried in the Road Hole bunker to continue to wonder why a man with eight majors on his resume by age 27 would be driven to alter his swing. Hogan’s secret was in the dirt; Woods’ sequestered map toward greatness follows a path in which he embarks on a never-ending journey of improvement. In Tiger’s World, there are no whistle stops on the railway to satisfaction.

“He keeps getting better and better and better,” said Haney. “Everybody always asks, ‘Is he close? Is he there?’ I don’t think there is a ‘there.’ ”

Woods’ second victory lap around the career Slam, as well as a 10th major championship – which moves him within eight of his lifetime benchmark, Jack Nicklaus – was a complete demonstration of the myriad colors on his palette.

Woods used his power – he led the field with a driving average of 341.5 yards, achieved with his “backup driver” after his gamer broke early in the week – to open with rounds of 66-67 and sprint to a four-shot lead through 36 holes. He used stubbornness, grit and never-say-die determination to fight through a loose ballstriking day in the third round, when he found two gorse bushes with wayward tee balls. A 71 easily could have been 75 or higher.

And on Sunday, when Colin Montgomerie and Co. thought Woods might be vulnerable and was in their crosshairs, he pulled away as only Woods can do, finding a gear his competitors simply do not possess. His iron game was crisp. This time, there were no late bogeys that hurt him, as had been his albatross at the Masters (where he bogeyed the last two holes of regulation) and the U.S. Open.

He also overpowered the Old Course’s famed Loop (Nos. 7-12) in 10 under, far better than his closest challengers. With a four-shot lead and six holes to play, he was home free.

Woods tied for first in putting, displaying a penchant not only for making key putts to maintain momentum, but a vast imagination with the putter from off the greens, negotiating the many not-so-subtle swales of the Old Course. (At Pinehurst, he ranked 80th with the short stick.)

His chipping (the creative bump from behind No. 8 Saturday, the soft downhill touch at No. 12 Sunday) was spot on. He left Pinehurst and his national open a disappointed man, knowing he had hit the ball well enough to walk away with the championship. Things would be different at the Home of Golf.

He would not lament his missed opportunity at a Grand Slam. Tiger doesn’t look back, but moves forward.

“He gave it his best (at Pinehurst),” Haney said. “That’s the coolest thing about Tiger. He never has any remorse about what could have been. We got on the plane that night (for Orlando), and he said, ‘I’ve got to go try to win the next two, and that will be one of the greatest years in major championship history.”

So it’s 1st-2nd-1st . . . and now the PGA and Baltusrol await.

History may not be very far behind.

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