Is Tiger ready?" David Duval asked on Sunday night, standing with his bags packed in front of the Old Course Hotel in St. Andrews, Scotland—the birthplace (and perhaps final resting spot) of golf. Three hours earlier Duval, the world's No. 2 player, was beaten, in ridiculous fashion, by Tiger Woods in the British Open, as were 71 other also-rans, and now, in the dark, Duval again deferred to the champion. A private jet idled at Leuchars Royal Air Force base, five minutes away, a winged chariot that had been chartered by the agency that manages both Woods and Duval. It would fly the two men—the Open's final pairing—to Orlando, along with Australian pro Stuart Appleby. Of course, there was no need for anyone to leave for the air base until Woods appeared outside the hotel. While the plane would not hesitate to take off without Appleby, "it's not going anywhere," Appleby said, "without Tiger."
Even to those who are tired of Woods—who are Tiger-fatigued—what happened next was arresting. Woods emerged from the hotel with a totem under each arm: One was a symbol of his old-soul experience, the other of his unfathomable youth. In his right hand was the claret jug, awarded to the Open champion. In his left, a carry-on bag bearing a faded sticker of the cartoon character Cartman, from South Park. "Bye, Mom, I love you," said Woods, kissing his mother, Tida, at the curb. "I'll call you when I get back." With that, Woods and his girlfriend, Joanna Jagoda, disappeared into a courtesy van, leaving Mom, history, Hogan, Nicklaus, drama and whatever remained of competitive golf all standing at the curb, waving goodbye.
With his 19-under-par performance at the Old Course, Woods lapped the field by eight strokes, 35 days after winning the U.S. Open by 15. In doing so, he achieved a career Grand Slam at age 24, two years younger than Jack Nicklaus was when he did it. Golf has gone strictly black-Thai, and it's no longer optional. Woods now holds the record for most strokes under par in the Masters, the U.S. Open and the British Open. Until three-putting the second green last Saturday, he had played 63 consecutive holes in major championship competition without making bogey. "He's the best who ever played," Mark Calcavecchia sighed on Sunday, "and he's 24."
How dramatically did Woods complete his reinvention of the game, on the site of its actual invention? Consider this watershed, remarkable for its sudden lack of remarkability: With Woods having won the the PGA, the U.S. Open and the British Open and Vijay Singh having won the Masters, it has been more than a year since a white guy won a major championship. St. Andrews may be the home of golf, but Woods has become the game's absentee owner. "Somebody out there," said Thomas Bjorn, who tied for second last week with Ernie Els, "is playing golf on a different planet."
In fact, the entire field at St. Andrews played on the cratered surface of the moon. The Old Course's famous bunkers—essentially uncovered manholes—were steepened further for the millennial Open. If that news wasn't ominous enough, an attendant bearing a seven-foot rake followed each group, like Death with his scythe. On Sunday, Duval took four strokes to get out of the Road Hole bunker on 17, the infamous Sands of Nakajima, as the Grim Raker discreetly averted his gaze. Woods likewise looked away.
Earlier in the week Calcavecchia and Sergio Garcia had both putted away from the six-foot-high wall of that bunker before even attempting to pitch out. Tsuyoshi Yoneyama blasted out backward, toward the tee box. But Woods, almost embarrassingly, played 72 holes on a course with 112 bunkers and never soiled his trouser cuffs. Given the 10 pieces of luggage that he and Jagoda carried to Scotland, he could afford to have done so. "He brought everything," said his mother, "except kitchen ware."
But then, Woods demands order and routine at the majors. For four days he is afflicted with a kind of tournament Tourette's, exhibiting countless obsessive compulsions. In practice he sometimes requires himself to hole 100 six-foot putts. Consecutively. Using only his right hand. He also barks the odd obscenity after tee shots, as he did last Thursday after pulling a ball into the rough on 17.
He's a neat freak who picks lint off greens with the fastidiousness of Felix Unger. He turned his back to the gallery on most fairways last week to honk into his hanky or apply eyedrops with a Poindexterous proficiency. For just under the surface of Woods's Nike-baked glaze remains a golf wonk named Eldrick: When they were teammates at Stanford, Notah Begay called the allergy-addled, dickie-wearing freshman Urkel. Urkel's mother said of her son on Sunday night, "If he tried to boil water, he would burn the pot."
Yet for all his manifold tics—the honking and sneezing and barking—Woods goes placid as a Zen garden before hitting a golf ball. That is his physical genius. "All players have some preshot routine," says Nick Faldo, the next iciest golfer of the last 15 years, whose British Open low-aggregate record Woods broke at St. Andrews. "Tiger has blitzed all that. There's no twitch, no lift of the hat, no wasted energy."
Nick Price was paired with Woods for the first two days of the Open and, following a 5�-hour round that didn't end until Friday evening, came off the course thoroughly flapped by Woods's unflappability. "He's on cruise, man," said Price, desperately flicking a disposable lighter in the manner of someone who had just witnessed a riveting calamity. "I'm telling you, he hasn't even tried any shots yet...(flick!)...I've seen him mishit only three shots this week...(flick!)...I played like that once in my life, at the PGA...(flick!)...He's played like that four or five times now and will do it 20 more times." Price finally produced a flame and sparked a cigarette. "Tiger cut a three-wood off the tee at 17 today, and I smoked a driver," he said, exhaling. "He was a yard past me."