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Published: Monday, 4/9/2001

Masters? No, there's only 1

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Forget the silly debate. Whether you elect to say that Tiger Woods won the Grand Slam or whether it's one down and three to go after yesterday's victory at the Masters is immaterial.

To waste time arguing would be to miss the point.

It doesn't matter what you call it so long as you call it incredible, monumental, inconceivable, unprecedented, implausible and indescribably delicious. So long as you concede it is the greatest moment in the game's history.

What Tiger Woods did at Augusta National Golf Club, claiming a fourth consecutive major championship, has never really been done before.

OK, I know. You want to argue Bobby Jones, who won all four majors of his era in the same year.

The two feats don't compare.

In 1930, golf was still an amateur's game. Sure, Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen had set the table for golf professionals to become professional golfers, but the world's top player was an amateur and one-half of the Grand Slam events were amateur events. Jones didn't have to beat Hagen or Sarazen or Tommy Armour to win them. He had to beat the likes of Sidney Roper, Cyril Tolley and Fred Hoblitzel, excellent golfers one and all, we trust, but not comparable talents to those Woods faces every time he walks to the first tee.

So, no disrespect to the late, great Jones, whose long shadow still falls over Augusta National, where he is listed as the club president despite being on the wrong side of the azaleas for almost 30 years now. But if we're discussing the greatest feat in golf history, well, Tiger Woods has sole ownership.

Jack Nicklaus came close, but never put together a string of four. Ben Hogan won three in the same year, but opted to sit out the PGA Championship in 1953. Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson ... we can name all the names and only one has done it. Tiger Woods.

Call it what you want. Grand Slam. Tiger Slam. Sham Slam. It is still gloriously brilliant. It is all the history you'd want in a game that revels in history and at a course that reeks of history.

And the pressure. Not only that which has mounted ever since Woods won last August's PGA Championship. But the pressure that existed throughout this memorable day as Woods was pushed to the finish by two of the game's top competitors and champions. Neither David Duval nor Phil Mickelson could deny Tiger his place in history, but they surely made him earn it.

The great debate is not over the semantics associated with Woods' accomplishment. The debate is whether this accomplishment translates into his being the game's all-time greatest player.

It is not that Woods has critics. Not any more. But Jack Nicklaus still has defenders. And they will point out that Tiger has not stood the test of time. That he hasn't had to deal with a serious or nagging injury. That he hasn't walked to the first tee as a husband who has just had a fight with his wife or as a father who didn't get much sleep because of a cranky baby's ear infection and high fever.

Valid points? Perhaps.

Yesterday evening, as darkness fell over the Georgia Pines, as the world said goodbye for yet another year to Rae's Creek and Ike's Cabin and Magnolia Lane, Tiger Woods was asked what he would say if he were to meet Bobby Jones walking through the National's clubhouse.

“Wow,'' said Tiger, who is rarely baffled by a question. “Well, first I guess I'd asked him how he'd managed to come back. Then I'd ask him if he wanted to sit down and have a beer.''

Jones would accept, although he'd insist on bourbon. They'd climb the narrow, circular staircase to the second floor, walk through the library and find a soft seat on the veranda, enjoying the warm breeze from that giant oak tree on the back lawn. They'd hoist a glass and, I suspect, Jones would propose the toast.

To golf's greatest accomplishment. By golf's greatest player.

Dave Hackenberg is a Blade sports writer.



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