Woods Has Everyone Diving for Cover

What is this, the Tiger U.S. Open? You would have to think so, the way his face is plastered all over the place.

There is Tiger Woods peering intently into the camera in a photo on the cover of Newsweek. There is Tiger on four different covers of TV Guide. As for golf trade publications, Tiger has them covered too. He is on the cover of Golf Journal. He is on the cover of Links. GolfWorld screams this teaser at the top of the cover: TIGER WOODS SO GOOD HE'S MAKING THE OTHERS LOOK RIDICULOUS.

Yeah, that sounds sort of cruel, but at the same time, it's also accurate enough that you can't automatically discard the idea. The reason is that even the players are lining up that way.

"Really, what else is there to talk about in the game of golf right now?" David Duval said. "It doesn't bother me. If I was on the other side of this microphone, I'd be asking about him too. I think like anybody else, you try to find something else you can write about, [but] what else is there to say?

"We all know that Tiger might very well have a great chance to win this week. And as a player, I think you come to the realization that you have to play very well and nearly mistake-free and expect to be battling with him come Sunday."

Sounds about right. If you play near-perfectly on a brutally tough course under hair-melting conditions, you're still going to be looking at Tiger on Sunday. Wonderful.

But Duval isn't alone in his opinion about Woods.

Said Ernie Els: "All credit to Tiger. It's no wonder you guys ask these questions because it's just the way it is. We're competing against a guy that's dominating a sport unlike anybody else."

Said Nick Price: "I've never seen anyone like him in all the years that I've been playing golf."

Sergio Garcia had similar thoughts.

"The way to overcome Tiger is to be perfect and, if not, congratulate him," he said.

Congratulations have been in order quite often regularly. It's not as though Woods wins every single time he plays, although it sure seems that way. In fact, except for his third at the Byron Nelson, he has won every tournament he has played since late February when he tied for 13th at the Nissan Open at Riviera. That would be five of his last six tournaments, including a European Tour event in Germany.

So how long ago does it seem that there was so much hand-wringing over Woods' slump?

"People were talking about 'he's in a slump.' He wasn't in a slump," said Earl Woods, Tiger's father. "He was in spring training. And, if you look at it, he had those seven tournaments [at the end of last year] in which he was all over the world--against my recommendation. . . .

"[He was] beat, totally worn out and he had three weeks before the next season started. Three weeks. So he just dumped his clubs and relaxed and had a forced holiday. So when he came back out on tour, he had to go through spring training because he didn't do anything before. He wasn't anywhere near tournament tough and it took him awhile to get there. Then, when he got there, he maintained. That's where he is today."

Where Woods is today is, well, everywhere. Even if he wins this week, his second U.S. Open and his fifth major in a row, it would still be good for golf, Duval said.

"I think that we're lucky to be playing in a time when you're seeing a person who might very well wind up being the greatest player that's ever played the game. We're involved in a sport that has the most recognizable athlete and maybe one of the most recognizable people in the world."

Yeah, we recognize him, all right. That's him, right there on the covers of all those magazines.

Streaker

The quote of the week comes from Duval, when asked if Woods' four consecutive major titles should be considered one of sport's greatest streaks: "I wasn't aware it wasn't considered that already."

Cool Customer

The second-best quote of the week comes from Els, when asked about the hot weather at Southern Hills: "When you get into the heat of the battle, you don't even think about the heat."

Memo to Tiger

Since 1991, the best that any U.S. Open champion has done in defending his title the next year is a tie for 40th . . . by Corey Pavin in 1996.

So Is His Rattle

News item: The 2001 Buick Regal LSE that Woods used as a courtesy car at the Masters is to be auctioned off this weekend on EBay.

Reaction: The training wheels from his bike from his youth in Cypress are still available.

Rolling Along

There weren't too many fans of the 18th hole during Tuesday's practice round when most players couldn't keep their golf balls from rolling off the green, which slopes from back to front.

Woods was one of them. He said that even if you hit the middle of the green, there's a chance the ball will roll 40 yards off the green.

Said Woods: "That's a pretty harsh penalty for a good, solid shot."

Phil Mickelson explained the predicament: "You're hitting your second shot with a long iron, you're hitting your second shot on a downslope and you're hitting your second shot out of a tight lie. So to get the ball up high enough to get to the green level off of a skinny lie with a two-iron or three-iron is going to be very difficult to do."

Apparently, the USGA agreed. Fred Ridley, chairman of the championship committee, said the USGA will take care to mow the greens and water them to make them fairer. He said the USGA will do the same thing at the green on the ninth hole.

He's Had His Phil

The most recent tip-off that Mickelson is tired of hearing about not winning a major came when he was asked if he had become frustrated answering questions about the ones that got away.

Said Mickelson: "Not necessarily, no."

Translation: "Absolutely, yes."

Fred Raphael 1921-2001

One of golf's greatest innovators, Fred Raphael died Tuesday of liver cancer in Bridgehampton, N.Y. He developed the original "Shell's Wonderful World of Golf," an Emmy Award-winning series, and in 1978 came up with the concept of the Legends of Golf that grew into the Senior PGA Tour.

Raphael, 80, is survived by five children and three grandchildren. (Story, B10).

Know Your Animals

The Golf Course Superintendents Assn. of America lists the wildlife that you can see on the course at Southern Hills: rabbit, red fox, raccoon, squirrel, muskrat, mole, hawk, Canada goose, woodpecker, turtle, swan and fish.

No Tiger was mentioned, you notice.

Soft Landing

Thongchai Jaidee, 31, is the first Thai to play in the U.S. Open. The second-leading money winner on the Asian Tour was a paratrooper in the Thai Army for 11 years and learned to play golf at 8 when his family lived near a golf course.

Jaidee said the United States is much different than what he is used to, especially the hotels.

"I choose to sleep on the floor because the mattress is too soft. So I sleep on the floor with a towel under my head because the pillows are too soft. It's a completely different thing. I spend $200 a night for a room, but I sleep on the floor."

You can be sure that if Jaidee wins the U.S. Open, every pro will be sleeping on the floor with towels for pillows next week.

Au Revoir, Gopher

News item: Bill Murray opens an 8,000-square foot Caddyshack restaurant at the World Golf Village in St. Augustine, Fla.

Reaction: Is Rodney Dangerfield the maitre d'?

Birdies, Bogeys, Pars

The 12th Charlie Joiner celebrity tournament will be held Thursday through Saturday at Torrey Pines. Details: (323) 658-5501.

The Celebrities Fore! Arf! tournament will be July 2 at Chardonnay Golf Club in Napa. The event benefits Tony La Russa's Animal Rescue Foundation. Details: (925) 296-3116.

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