A 2001 Retrospective Part 1
First, when he lifted his right fist at the 72nd hole of the Masters, the ball inches from the cup, it signified the completion of a journey into previously untouched territory. The realization, as a fan and an observer, that we had seen one of the greatest feats in sports history, while mostly unsurprising, still hit with stunning force.
Secondly, the still photograph showing Tiger at The American Express Championship in St. Louis with his hand over his face in disbelief upon learning of the Sept. 11th attacks captured perfectly the utter horror and shock we all felt on the worst day many of us have ever known. The catastrophic event put a somber chill on all inappropriate exultation. And the glorification of athletic heroes just didn't feel right any longer, no disrespect to Tiger or any of the other worthy champions from the season past.
From there, any attempt to assess the year in golf is done so with tempered enthusiasm, for while I still love the game, it's very difficult to look at 2001 in any context other than Sept. 11th. That said, let's slip back to January and the perfect island escape, Maui. That's the sweet reward for winning a tournament in the previous year. And with trance-inducing views high atop the Pacific, a room at the Ritz, your family by your side and those caressing nighttime breezes, it's easy to see where a professional might allow himself to think for a spell, 'I've made it.'
At Kapalua, Tiger talk was, as usual, pervasive. He hadn't won in the busy two months he customarily undertakes to close out his year. Of course, that's like suggesting to a perfect-game pitcher that he could've struck our more batters. The year 2000 was probably the greatest ever. There, I said it. Oh, and I can see the e-mails pouring in now: 'Lerner's got his head up Tiger's shag bag.' Whatever. Fact is, 2000 asked Tiger to churn an unbelievable amount of energy, physically and emotionally.
But in his mind, the job wasn't done at the end of 2000. In a way, the 2000 season for Tiger would extend to April and Augusta. Tiger, naturally, paid little attention to the lingering, mindless chatter over his so-called winless skid. His mantra was very simple. Gear for Augusta. One mission. Win the jacket. Make history. Four in a row.
Not leaving anything to chance, Woods established his imposing presence well before the golf world landed beneath the shade of the old oak tree at Augusta. At Bay Hill, Woods caught a good break off the 18th tee when his ball hit a fan. He then smoked a titanic 5-iron over the water to 15 feet, needing birdie to beat Lefty (Phil Mickelson), who was in the house after a crackling good up-and-down at the last for 66. You need to be reminded that Woods made three? Tiger, with the gallery ready to pop, keeping the lid on the pot? Not a chance.
On to Ponte Vedra, where Woods made a putt that'll be replayed as much as any putt since Justin Leonard's Ryder Cup Howitzer in '99. And man, the one Woods made had more curls in it than a Dolly Parton wig. There seemed to be no limit to the young man's magic. Two in a row. Bay Hill. The Players. Woods was certainly enjoying the view on his majestic train ride to history.
The moment was now before him. Woods, even as good as he is, knew the opportunity at four straight might not ever come his way again, as hard as majors are to win and as keen as the competition is. His game face on those walks from the clubhouse at Augusta to the practice putting green just before his tee times at the Masters was legendary, like watching Russell Crowe stride into battle in the movie 'Gladiator.' Eyes straight ahead and slightly down. Shoulders angled forward like a defensive back. The burst from the locker room with body guards at each flank. The pace is brisk, purposeful. The aura's unmistakeable. You watch and think, 'There goes a guy who's intent on taking care of business.'
From the start, Woods seemed to slowly - like a boa - squeeze hole after hole out of the tournament and make it his. Three shots stand out: the knockdown approach he drew like Rembrandt into the 11th, almost running it in with very cool sidespin; the slingshot 3-wood he launched at No. 13 just after he'd made bogey at 12 on Sunday; and, of course, the putt which sealed his date with destiny at the end. Four in a row. And they just added some 300 yards to Augusta National.
After Augusta, Woods tacked on a third straight Memorial. Memorial, when it is soft, is as well-tailored to Tiger's game of 'hit it high and hit it deep' as any course he's ever played.
From there, Tiger fought his way through three majors where he wasn't in real contention. And just when it seemed he might be out of gas, he landed in a seven-hole, sudden-death classic with Jim Furyk at Firestone, yet another vintage layout Woods seems to own. He survived all manner of outrageous Furyk haymakers and won for the fifth and final official time in 2001.
His predictable Grand Slam victory in Hawaii and then his final round statement - there'll be more of the same in 2002 - at his own Williams World Challenge capped a year which, while not better than the best year ever (2000), was better than all but one or two in the last quarter century (Nick Price in '94 and Tom Watson in '80).
In short, Tiger Woods in 2001 did nothing to dispel the notion that he may well be, either now or someday in the future, the greatest golfer who ever lived.
Has the gap closed? It depends upon how you look at the situation. True, Tiger won just one major this year, compared to three of four in 2000. Other guys - David Duval and David Toms come to mind - tasted major success and that bodes well for their confidence going forward. Tiger, they proved, doesn't have a monopoly on glory.
Yet, ask yourself a couple questions: Do you see Toms, for example, winning, say, three majors? Certainly conceivable. Do you see Toms winning 22 majors? Basically inconceivable. Now, do you see Tiger winning 22 majors? Highly possible. So again, ask yourself the question, has the gap really closed? The year 2002 will offer more intriguing clues.
Part 2, on Friday, will look at some of the other stories to come out of 2001, including the rise of other, even younger stars like Charles Howell III and Ty Tryon.
McIlroy 'happy to be back', can 'empathize' with Tiger
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – After a long layoff from golf, Rory McIlroy has some newfound sympathy for Tiger Woods.
The 28-year-old Northern Irishman is making a comeback at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after ending his season early last year. He has not played a round since the final day of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on Oct. 8.
McIlroy, a four-time major champion who has slipped to No. 11 in the world rankings, last won the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour in September 2016. He injured a rib in his first outing of 2017 – at the South African Open – and felt its after-effects throughout the year.
McIlroy, who has seven top-five finishes in his last eight starts in Abu Dhabi, said Tuesday he felt mentally low because of his physical issues.
''Honestly, I was excited to be done. I could have shut it down after the PGA Championship very easily and taken the rest of the year off, but I didn't. I played six events after that, played OK and had a chance to win one of them,'' McIlroy said. ''But I was just excited to take that time off and get myself just sort of a re-set.''
Last week, McIlroy also revealed that he has a minor, non-threatening heart condition that needs regular check-ups.
''After that 3-plus months of a re-set, I'm very happy to be back. I felt like I needed it physically and mentally. I just felt like it was a little bit of a sabbatical. I've been out here for 10 years, and I want to get ready for the next 10.''
McIlroy compared his situation to what Woods has been going through.
''I've only been through, maybe, not even 5 percent of what he's had to go through. And you can tell from where he was to where he is now mentally, because of physically where he is ... he's a totally different person,'' McIlroy said. ''Of course, I empathize with him, and I know he was in a dark place there for a while. It's just so great to see him out of that and back and excited to be playing golf again.''
The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship will be the first of back-to-back events for McIlroy, who is also playing next week in Dubai.
''I think the next two weeks will be a big learning curve, just to see where I'm at,'' McIlroy said. ''I'm obviously coming into the events trying to play as well as I can and trying to compete and trying to win, but I think there will definitely be things I'll have to work on going into that stretch in the States.''
The tournament, which starts Thursday, has attracted some big names, including top-ranked Dustin Johnson, No. 6 Justin Rose, No. 9 Henrik Stenson, No. 14 Paul Casey and No. 15 Matt Kuchar. No. 18 Tommy Fleetwood is the defending champion.
Pre-tourney caution be damned: Stenson rides camel
If you were under the impression Henrik Stenson's days of engaging in pre-tournament hijinks at HSBC-sponsored events were over, then you don't know the Swedish Superman.
Ahead of this week's HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, the 2016 champion golfer of the year decided to have some fun riding (and pretend-spanking) a camel:
When in the Middle East... pic.twitter.com/lNv1Lh79E0— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) January 16, 2018
If you can't imagine any reason Stenson wouldn't get on a camel, we will point you to the WGC-HSBC Champions back in October, when Stenson, Dustin Johnson, Haotong Li and Hideki Matsuyama took place in this hire-wire act:
Two weeks later, Stenson revealed a rib injury, and a report from the U.K.'s Telegraph stated "that not only was the Shanghai caper to blame, but that Stenson is annoyed about being persuaded to do it in the first place."
Stenson brushed back at that report in this Instagram post, saying that his "comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal."
I’m disappointed to have to pre-emptively withdraw from the Nedbank Golf Challenge Hosted by Gary Player, I was looking forward to this important year-end event on the European Tour. At this point I am back home in Orlando waiting to do a scan on my ribs and get the necessary rest. I am still hoping for a quick recovery and have not ruled out playing in Dubai next week at this point. My comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal. The plan as of now will be to participate in the DP World Championship if my body is back to 100%. H
And it would appear he genuinely meant those comments, at least enough to get on a camel.
Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational
Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.
The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.
Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.
“I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”
Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews
Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.
Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.