Tiger began the day at 8-under-par, ten shots clear of his nearest competitor. The trophy was his. The $800,000 winner's check was his. A place in history was his. He just had to play 18 holes to make it official.
Tiger's day began with nine consecutive pars. Certainly, it was good enough to win the title, but it wasn't good enough to break the records -- and that's what this round was all about. Don't let Tiger fool you. He might appear aloof when asked about his place in the game's record books, but there's a white-hot fire burning inside of him that belies his demeanor. After all, you don't get that perturbed by making pars in the final round of the U.S. Open, particularly when you have a double-digit lead!
Woods finally broke his string of pars with a birdie at the par-4 10th to move to 9-under-par. But the game didn't truly begin until the par-3 12th. It was there that Tiger sank an 18-footer for birdie, thus becoming just the second man in history to reach double digits at any time in a U.S. Open.
Twelve-under was the next goal for Woods. That was the height reached by Gil Morgan in the third round in the Open at Pebble Beach in 1992.
Woods came within one of that number by nearly holing his approach at the par-4 13th. The resulting birdie moved him to 11-under for the tournament. One hole later, Tiger reached the 12-under total by birdying the par-5 14th.
Now that he had tied the lowest score at any point in Open history, the next step was to break it. He nearly did on the 15th, but left his birdie attempt inches short.
The par-4 16th looked to be a pitfall for Woods. He missed the green long, and pitched past the hole 15 feet. Faced with that putt to remain at 12-under, Woods forcefully rolled it in. He called it the high point of his round.
Tiger safely parred the 17th, and then approached the par-5 18th. There wasn't quite the atmosphere experienced on the 72nd hole as there was a year ago at Pinehurst, but there was still some drama. You knew Tiger was going to break a number of records, but which ones? And, how many?
In the end, Tiger mercifully ended the 100th U.S. Open by sinking a three-footer for par. He shot a 4-under-par 67 on Sunday. Not just a bogey-free round, but also the best of the day by all involved. He finished the tournament at 12-under-par 272 - 15 shots beyond Ernie Els and Miguel Angel Jimenez, who tied for second.
'The day, and all week, I had a sense of calmness that I haven't had in quite a while,' Woods said. 'It was reminiscent of Augusta in '97. No matter what happened, I was able to keep my composure and focus on the shot I needed to make.'
The U.S. Open records Tiger set are as follows: largest 36-hole lead (6 strokes), largest 54-hole lead (10 strokes), largest winning margin (15 strokes; breaking not only the Open record, but the major championship record which was previously 12 strokes, held by Old Tom Morris at the 1862 British Open), lowest 72-hole score in relation to par (12-under).
In addition, Woods tied the 36-hole total of 134 set by Jack Nicklaus (1980) and Lee Janzen (1993). He also tied the same two with a 72-hole total of 272. He became just the fifth wire-to-wire winner (no ties) in the U.S. Open, and the first since Tony Jacklin in 1970. Tiger also established himself as the first man in golf history to win the U.S. Junior-Am, U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open.
Some may feel that records are just numbers, and can't be used in determining greatness. But when there's no one at your present level, what else can you use but the past as a barometer.
How great can great be? It's fun to speculate, but difficult to answer; especially when you can't fully understand how great Tiger Woods is right now.
'The guy's unbelievable, man,' said Els, a two-time Open champion himself. 'I'm running out of words. Gimme a break. The guys unbelievable.'
Even the greatest wordsmiths are running out of adjectives to describe Tiger. And he's only 24-years-old.
Yes, this was a U.S. Open. Yes, this was Pebble Beach. Yes, Tiger won by 15. It wasn't competitive, but it was astounding. Simply put, Tiger Woods was and is too dominant to comprehend.
NEWS, NOTES AND NUMBERS
*Tiger Woods adds the 2000 U.S. Open to his major resume, which includes the 1999 PGA Championship and 1997 Masters Tournament. He will try to complete the career Grand Slam in next month's British Open at the Old Course at St. Andrews.
*John Huston was the only American besides Tiger who finished in the top-7.
*Retief Goosen holed an approach shot on the par-5 18th to finish the tournament in a tie for 12th, thus earning an exemption into the 2001 U.S. Open.
*How important is hitting fairways? Colin Montgomerie led the field by hitting 82%, but finished tied for 46th in the event.
*Woods led the tournament in greens hit in regulation (71%) and driving distance (299.3 avg.)
*Nick Faldo led the tournament in putting, averaging 26 putts per round.
*The par-71 Pebble Beach course played to a 75.355 overall scoring average.
*Holes 8-10 ranked 2nd, 1st and 5th respectively in overall difficulty.
Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long
Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.
Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.
"He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"
The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.
Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.
"I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."
Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.
"From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.
"And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.
"There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."
Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA
Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.
Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.
Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.
With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.
Ko told GolfChannel.com Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.
“It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”
Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.
Ko released this statement through the LPGA on Wednesday:
"It has been my dream since I was young to play on the LPGA Tour and I look forward to testing myself against the best players on a worldwide stage. I know it is going to be tough but making a first win as an LPGA member and winning the Rolex Rookie of the Year award would be two of the biggest goals I would like to achieve next year."
Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return
Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.
Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.
Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.
Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.
“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.
As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar
Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.
With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.
That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.
That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.
And that’s a magic word in golf.
There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.
Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.
The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.
Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.
A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.
The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.
Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.
For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.
The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.
The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.
“It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida. “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’
“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”
And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.
“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”
The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.
Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.
The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.
Parity was the story this year.
Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.
Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.
The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.
The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.
“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”
If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.
Parity was the theme from the year’s start.
There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.
This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.
Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.
Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.
She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.
The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.