Woods Shows Mental Mettle in Winning British Open

Only a couple of months removed from his father's death, Tiger Woods has captured a consecutive British Open title, demonstrating a level of discipline and maturity notable even for the world's most successful golfer. Normally one of the game's longest drivers, Woods avoided hazards by hitting iron shots off the tee, opting for accuracy over distance.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

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Golfers the world over are raving about what they saw yesterday at the British Open. What they saw was the greatest golfer in the world get even greater. The record books will show that Tiger Woods won his second straight British championship - a two-stroke victory over fellow American Chris DiMarco. What may be lost in the numbers, though, is how Woods won.

NPR's Tom Goldman reports the victory signals the latest evolution of Woods's formidable golf game and trouble for his closest rivals.

TOM GOLDMAN reporting:

So much seemed familiar yesterday as Tiger Woods walked the hard brown course at Royal Liverpool Golf Club. There was the red shirt he wears on the final day of tournaments. There was the steely, almost half-lidded look in his eyes, a window on his unearthly powers of concentration. There were laser shots to the greens and putts that found the hole as if pulled by magnets. And finally, there were clenched fists, a shout of joy and victory.

His 11th major championship put him only seven away from the record held by Jack Nicklaus. Afterwards, Woods acknowledged that indeed his familiarity with the situation carried him through the final round and separated him from some of his closest rivals - Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, Chris DiMarco.

Mr. TIGER WOODS (Golfer, Winner of British Open): Only Ernie and I have won this championship. We're the only ones who have basically won majors on that board. You know, Sergio hasn't done it yet and I'm sure he will soon. Chris hasn't done it and he's come so close. And I just think that there is a certain calmness that comes about being able to say with honesty that I've done this before.

GOLDMAN: But the way he did it hardly was business as usual.

Mr. CRAIG BESTROM (Golf Digest Magazine): Well, he won this tournament in a way unlike I've ever seen him win one, and that was using a mental approach to a golf course unlike anyone else in the field tried.

GOLDMAN: Craig Bestrom is a senior editor at Golf Digest Magazine. Bestrom has watched Woods establish himself as the game's preeminent power player. Woods's towering drives even forced hallowed Augusta National Golf Course, site of the Masters, to change its layout so his long shots wouldn't give him an overwhelming advantage.

But over the last four days at Royal Liverpool, Woods knew the longer the ball went off the tee, the more chance it had of rolling into trouble somewhere. So he used his supercharged driver once. Here's Craig Bestrom.

Mr. BESTROM: No one else in the field did that and he was giving up 40, 50, 60 yards to everyone else in the field and playing from well back of them. And just producing great shots. He ended up leading the field in driving accuracy, which he was doing with two irons and three irons mostly, a few three woods.

GOLDMAN: Although Tiger Woods always has been more than just a power hitter, Craig Bestrom says yesterday was the purest of thinking man victories. And it was the ultimate tribute to Woods's late father, Earl, who died in May. After his victory, Tiger said his dad always told him to use your mind to plot your way around the golf course.

Earl figured prominently in the dramatic conclusion to the British Open as well. Tiger Woods wept openly, talking about how he missed his dad. For a player who's been criticized as being too mechanical, too corporate, it was a human moment that Craig Bestrom says will endear Woods to golf fans even more. Golf fans who can't wait to see what the 30-year-old Woods does next, considering he's just now entering his golfing prime.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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