Chapter 3: The Tiger Slam
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His first PLAYERS win and four straight major championships had Tiger rewriting our view of golf history
Written by Jim McCabe @PGATOUR
If there was a stretch of golf in Tiger Woods’ career that served to demoralize the competition, it might have been this 11-month period from the summer of 2000 to the spring of 2001. One by one, Hall of Famers and major winners got dusted by Woods -- all four of the majors played in this time frame went into his win column, and, well, it was getting a little tiresome to keep fielding questions about the man’s superiority.
So, at St. Andrews, in July of 2000, when Ernie Els was asked a question about Woods that invoked the name of Old Tom Morris, indignation ruled. “Old Tom Morris?” Els said, shaking his head. “Old Tom Morris? If you put Old Tom Morris with Tiger, Tiger would probably beat him by 80 shots right now.”
In this run of eight wins in 18 PGA TOUR starts, Woods steamrolled over runner-ups Els (twice), Phil Mickelson, Justin Leonard, Vijay Singh, and David Duval, with 15-, 8- and 11-stroke wins coming within a six-week window. He won the best tournaments against the best competition, which is a tribute few golfers earned quite like Woods.
Win No. 20: June 18, 2000 - U.S. Open
Tiger Woods' victory in 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach
Here was Tiger Woods in late May, after winning at the Memorial: “When I get there (to Pebble Beach), I’ll be primed and ready to go.”
Here was Paul Azinger, likely speaking for the field after Woods built a 10-shot lead through 54 holes at Pebble Beach, proving that he had indeed arrived ready to go. “He’s the show pony. The sad thing is, you can’t control him. It’s not like boxing – unless you want to fight on the first tee, which we don’t do because it’s a gentleman’s game.”
Woods closed with 67 to win by 15. Fifteen. And Ernie Els, who shared second, was nearly speechless. “My words probably can’t describe it, so I’m not even going to try.”
By the Numbers: Won by a career-best 15 strokes, the second largest winning margin in PGA TOUR history.
Win No. 21: July 23, 2000 – The Open Championship
So many similarities – historic major, iconic locale, lopsided playing field. “I look at the board and I’m just getting lapped,” said Tom Lehman. The chase for the Claret Jug at The Old Course was in Woods’ favor by six through 54 holes and Tom Kite said you could put a bow on it. “There isn’t a chance of catching him, unless he sleeps in,” he said.
When Woods sealed a 12-stroke victory – meaning he had won back-to-back majors by a total of 27 strokes – Mark Calcavecchia was in awe. “It wasn’t long ago when I said there’d never be another Jack Nicklaus,” he said. “But we’re looking at one (Woods). He is the chosen one.”
By the Numbers: Became the youngest player (24 years old) to complete the career grand slam.
Win No. 22: Aug. 20, 2000 - PGA Championship
Tiger Woods wins 2000 PGA Championship
No blowout, but the mood was the same. “Tiger,” said Bob May, after losing to Woods in a three-hole aggregate playoff at Valhalla, “plays a different game than we play.”
From where he sat, Woods enjoyed the must-make birdie putt at the 72nd hole to get into the playoff, then the 16th, 17th and 18th holes to win. “We never backed off,” he said. “We went birdie-for-birdie, shot-for-shot. It was a very special day.”
Joining Ben Hogan (1953) as the only players to win three majors in a season, Woods generated more praise from the game’s icons. Said Tom Watson: “Tiger is doing things nobody has ever done. You are seeing a phenomenon that the game may never, ever see again.”
By the Numbers: Tiger made a field-leading 25 birdies for the week, his best performance in 14 major victories.
Win No. 23: Aug. 27, 2000 - WGC-NEC Invitational
Tiger Woods wins 2000 WGC-NEC Invitational
The gist of the performance – another Woods blowout – had been seen before. Only this time, the final act was virtually impossible to witness at Firestone. “I could see the flag, I just couldn’t see the shot,” said Woods, who chose to play in darkness rather than come back Monday morning to finish off a double-digit win.
So, from 168 yards he hit an 8-iron and then waited – just listening, as he couldn’t watch – for crowd reaction. It was ground-shaking, for the ball fell out of the dark sky and landed a few feet from the flagstick. The finishing touch on a 11-stroke win. Five his six wins since March had been by an average of 8.6 strokes.
“The performance we’ve seen the last two years will be something that will go down in the history books,” said Nick Price.
By the Numbers: Tiger shot an opening 36-hole 125 (64-61), his lowest opening 36-holes in a WGC stroke play event.
Win No. 24: Sept. 10, 2000 - Bell Canadian Open
Tiger Woods wins 2000 Bell Canadian Open
“He’s an extraordinary player who comes along once in every generation – or, in his case, maybe once in forever,” said Grant Waite, who did what more heralded names (Ernie Els and Davis Love III, for instance) had not done – he pushed Woods to the limit.
In doing so, of course, Waite brought out the magic with which Woods is saturated.
“A shot like that explains what kind of person and what kind of a golfer he is. He’s very special,” said Waite, who was a shot behind at the par-5 18th when he slammed a 5-iron from about 220 yards to set up a 20-foot eagle try. It forced Woods, who stood in a bunker 218 yards from the flagstick, to take on a demanding shot out of sand and over water.
The 6-iron to 10 feet remains arguably one of the two or three best shots of a career filled with nothing but.
What’s more, it wrapped up a stretch of golf never seen – five wins since June, including national opens (U.S., British, Canadian), completion of the career Grand Slam, and nine PGA TOUR wins in all.
“I’ve had a wonderful summer,” said Woods, in a massive understatement.
Truth is, he had already had a Hall of Fame career: 24 wins in just 90 PGA TOUR starts, and five major championships. Thing is, he was just 24 and only warming up. So much more was to come.
By the Numbers: Tiger shot an opening 36-hole 125 (64-61) marking his lowest opening 36-holes in a WGC stroke play event.
Win No. 25: March 18, 2001 – Bay Hill Invitational
Tiger Woods wins 2001 Bay Hill Invitational
He didn’t exactly stick his neck out for Tiger Woods, but spectator Tony DeKroub had his in the right place at the right time well down the left-hand side of the 18th fairway. “There were so many people over there, I figured it would smoke somebody,” said Woods, who was tied with playing competitor Phil Mickelson when he pull-hooked his final tee shot.
Woods was right. He did find a spectator. Specifically, DeKroub’s neck, which got whacked after Woods’ golf ball hopped once. Likely, it would have gone OB.
Fortuitous bounce, yes, but what happened next was pure Woods magic – a 196-yard approach to 15 feet. Mickelson knew the punch line. “I did think he’d make it,” said Mickelson. “He usually does when he needs it.”
He did, too, to end his “drought,” having gone nine tournaments without a win, dating back to the fall of ’00.
By the Numbers: Played the par 3's at 6-under for the week marking his best performance in any of his stroke play victories.
Win No. 26: March 27, 2001 – THE PLAYERS Championship
Tiger Woods wins THE PLAYERS Championship 2001
Round 3 produced vintage Woods theatrics, the Gary Koch “better than most” call of a birdie putt at 17 from somewhere in the 50-to-60-foot range.
Same hole in Round 4? Woods’ tee shot hit the front of the green and appeared to be headed back in the water, then stopped. “And he’s lucky as all get-out,” said Paul Azinger, watching the jumbotron TV. “Will you look at that?”
Good and lucky, an impossible combination to hold off, and Jerry Kelly discovered that when he coughed up his 54-hole lead and watched Woods rally to edge Vijay Singh on a Monday finish. “Yeah, he’s in the back of your head,” said Kelly.
By the Numbers: This was the first time in Tiger's career at THE PLAYERS where he went the entire week without a 3-putt.
Win No. 27: April 8, 2001 – Masters
Epic and historic. Accurate descriptions, for sure, as Woods became the first player to ever win four consecutive major championships.
Phil Mickelson, paired with Woods in Sunday’s final round, wasn’t much of an eyewitness, however. “I didn’t watch him play a stroke. I just looked up and saw the ball going in, and just kind of expected that,” said the lefthander.
Said David Duval, who finished second, two back: “I would imagine it was the same way when people were competing against Jack Nicklaus.”
By the Numbers: Completed the "Tiger Slam" winning all four majors consecutively.
Jim McCabe has covered golf since 1995, writing for The Boston Globe, Golfweek Magazine, and PGATOUR.COM. Follow Jim McCabe on Twitter.