Tiger wants 'right four'

KEN FIDLIN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:33 AM ET

Just in case anyone on the PGA Tour was feeling a little frisky, Tiger Woods fired off a not-so-subtle message as to who is in charge at the Buick Open, then stepped off the royal yacht after a month of nesting to shoot a routine little 67.

He's back.

This wasn't the Bob Hope Desert birdie fest or the frat party in Phoenix. The South Course at Torrey Pines in San Diego already has been injected with steroids for the United States Open in June and Tiger, rust and all, whipped it like a rented mule yesterday.

Earlier this week, he had idly reflected upon the potential for a grand slam this year. That's a place nobody but The Man dares go.

"It's easily within reason," he said.

Golf's four majors are scheduled on golf courses that Woods is not only familiar with but ones he is hungry to plunder. He already has demonstrated that Augusta National is his second home, winning the Masters four times. Torrey Pines, where the U.S. Open will be played in June, is a place where Woods has won five Buick titles over the years. The British Open is back at Royal Birkdale this year and that's a place where Woods missed a playoff by an eyelash in 1998. The only wild card in the bunch is Detroit's Oakland Hills where Woods never has won.

"I like Oakland Hills," Woods said Wednesday in a news conference. "I liked it when I first played there in 1996 (in the U.S. Open). Those greens are the key to that golf course. You've just got to figure them out. I think that's when you're going to have to spend a little bit more time in the practice rounds in preparation, trying to figure it out."

More recently, Oakland Hills was the scene of another American Ryder Cup meltdown four years ago, but it wasn't Woods who let the side down.

"It's the development of my game over the years," Woods said, explaining why he is so confident about the slam. "For most of my career, I've won more than four tournaments per year, and all I have to do is win the right four, and I've done those a few times. I think if you put it all together, have luck on your side, all the stars will line up, and it certainly is possible. A couple of years ago, I came within four shots of winning or being in a playoff on all four, so this year, I think it's possible."

The golf season supposedly began three weeks ago, but this week at the Buick, with Woods and Phil Mickelson fully engaged on one of the world's great courses, the atmosphere dictates that this is, indeed, the start of the PGA Tour season.

"He is obviously a very comfortable player and he should be," Mickelson said when told of Woods' slam designs. "He has won countless events and double-digit majors. But I think this year I should be able to put myself in contention as well, and I look forward to the opportunity of competing against him."

Mickelson has been off since November, battling a persistent lung infection, but also working on some key swing changes he hopes will allow him to hit more fairways off the tee. He has shortened his swing and has strived to add some muscle to make up for the smaller arc.

He, too, has owned Torrey Pines in the past, having grown up just down the road, but the course has been rebuilt, all but destroying his home-course advantage on the greens.

But as good as Mickelson is, there is no one in Woods' league. At 32, he begins his 12th season as a pro, already having won 61 PGA events and 13 majors at a time of life when most pro golfers are just reaching the peak of their powers. In his past three seasons, Woods has played a total of 52 tournaments, winning 21 times, including five majors.

If he maintains that dominance, in three years he will be approaching uncharted territory. Sam Snead's record of 82 PGA tournament wins and Jack Nicklaus' 18 majors are marks that will surely fall and then Tiger will be left, like Gretzky, to compete only against himself and history.

Can he do it? Do we really even need to ask?


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