The Year of the Tiger

By Rich LernerDecember 28, 2000, 5:00 pm
How many times?
How many ways?
Did he defy logic?
 
He delivered arguably the greatest season in history, not simply for the significance of what he won, but how he did it.
 
In mind-boggling runaways. In the cradle of history. In blow-for-blow, must-make pressure cookers.
 
In the company of legends at Arnie's Bay Hill and Jack's Memorial. In the dark in Akron. Over the water in Canada. Along the coast at Pebble. On top of the world at Kapalua.
 
He seemed to do it all. None of it in ordinary fashion.
 
It's difficult to determine the most monumental of all his achievements. Is it the completion of six in a row? At the time, chroniclers of the game had that rated as one of the top five accomplishments of all time.
 
Tiger entered 2000 with four straight victories. Number five announced that the New Year would be extraordinary. Woods against Els looked like Ali and Frazier, McGwire against Sosa. Woods snaked a long, winding putt in overtime for the victory, thrusting his fist into the air and jump-starting the season with a rocket booster.
 
The AT&T at Pebble Beach, nearly a month later, was no less dramatic. Seven shots back with eight to play, Woods charged home with a 64, highlighted by a slam-dunk at the 15th.
 
The streak moved to six in a row, and with observers now believing that Byron's 11 straight, once thought to be untouchable, was not out of reach for the miracle worker, excitement grew.
 
On to San Diego. The Tiger universe expanding. Tiger talk incessant. Tiger fatigue setting in.
 
Phil Mickelson was asked, 'If you play your best and Tiger plays his best, are you playing for second?' Mickelson bristled and respectfully declined to answer. Then, in a harbinger of what he would ultimately put together in a strong year of his own, Mickelson held off Tiger.
 
Tiger appeared weary, fighting his swing, but he proved in defeat that even when not at his best, he would have to be dealt with.
 
The streak was over at six, but left everyone buzzing. What was on the horizon, though, would eclipse even his run at Nelson's mark.
 
After Darren Clarke clipped Tiger in a convincing decision in the Match Play final, Tiger, in his next start, re-established his dominance. Even before the weekend at Bay Hill, Colin Montgomerie, to the dismay of some of his peers, but underscoring the prevailing sentiment of fans, basically conceded the victory to Tiger. Still, the air of invincibility was at least challenged the following week when Hal Sutton talked the talk and then walked the walk at the Players Championship.
 
So, it looked for a moment as if Tiger's peers were answering his challenge. That lasted through the Masters, where a double and a triple bogey would ultimately separate him from the Grand Slam at season's end.
 

But all along, Tiger had been pointing to Pebble Beach, the millennium U.S. Open in his native California. A watershed year on the calendar would be a watershed moment for the young legend. It was here that - from a pure playing standpoint - Tiger Woods turned in perhaps the greatest single performance in major championship history. Here, where he established the vastness of the chasm separating himself from every other player in the world. Here, where he turned over records that went back to 1862 and Old Tom Morris.
 
Tiger Woods won the U.S. Open by 15 shots! NBA games are won by 15, not major championships.
 
Could it possibly get any better? No one would rule anything out now. For no matter how high the bar was set, in each case, Tiger cleared it with ease.
 
If his tour de force at the U.S. Open remains the most astonishing single feat of all his exploits, St. Andrews, the birthplace of golf, for the British Open, was the more fitting site for the coronation. It represented a two-major sweep at two of golf's most hallowed shrines - Pebble and St. Andrews. Here, Tiger's victory seemed pre-ordained, with little doubt in anyone's mind that the Old Course presented little which could slow down Woods.
 

For four days, Woods hit not one single bunker, and there are plenty of them. His victory made him the youngest ever to win the career Grand Slam. It left nothing to conjecture. Woods officially joined the pantheon of the greatest legends in golf history - at age 24. And he wasn't finished yet. Not by a long shot. What followed the British Open was a punctuation mark delivered with a sledgehammer.
 
The PGA dawned at Valhalla with the Best Ever (debatedly so) running rampant. Was this season, with the 15-shot U.S. Open triumph followed by the British Open, the greatest of all time? Who's the best ever, Woods or Nicklaus?
 
The two were paired for the first two rounds, after which the never-easily-impressed 20-time major champion gushed over the successor to his throne.
 
The start of PGA Championship week also brought to the fore the debate - Is Tiger's domination good or bad for the game?
 
In each of the previous two majors, Tiger had squeezed the life out of seemingly helpless fields of the rest of the best players in the world. He began to diminish the stature of nearly every one he left in his wake. And while everyone was electrified by what they had seen Woods do, the consensus at Valhalla was that everyone wanted at least a good fight.
 
No one knew it would be Bob May who would draw Woods to the center of the ring for one of the most thrilling Sundays in major championship history. That day also left an image that will always be replayed, a defining picture of a man in control of his destiny, a man whose golf ball seemed to always succumb to his unbending will. You will do as I say, go where I decree, Woods seemed to bark at his golf ball. And in they went.
 
From there Woods would have been excused had he exhaled and called it a year. He had matched Hogan's Triple Crown feat of 1953. Valhalla was exhilarating and should have been exhausting for Tiger. But what happened the very next week at esteemed Firestone and the NEC World Golf Championship event put his already sublime season into surreal context.
 
When a stormy, stop-and-go Sunday came to a close, daylight had vanished, and Woods had shattered yet another record at another highly respected venue.
 
His feel apparently so good that he could play in the dark.
 
Like the visually impaired musical maestro, Tiger seemed to have senses and instincts beyond the norm. In fact, his ball dropping from the ominous sky to a foot was darn near paranormal.
 
Three weeks later, rested, Woods returned for another interesting crack at history. Only Lee Trevino in the same season had won the U.S., British and Canadian Opens. Tiger's bid for the three-nation triple came down to one daring, magnificent blow, the 6-iron from the bunker, 213 yards over water - the shot many peers called the best of the year, the shot everyone understood only he could make.
 
At the President's Cup, Tiger answered Vijay's question in Sunday singles. Interestingly and appropriately, Tiger mania seems to ebb only at the team events where he doesn't have to be the focal point.
 
Bids to become the first in 50 years to win 10 in a season fell just short at Disney, The Tour Championship and at Valderrama, three tournaments he swept a year ago.
 
Undaunted, Woods marched onward in a year-end run around the globe, winning the Johnnie Walker in his mother's native Thailand, the PGA Grand Slam of Golf in Hawaii with an eagle-eagle finish, and finally the World Cup alongside David Duval in Argentina.
 
Obviously, the impact of this season will be felt for years. Woods even made overtures that the implications of his impact will need to be addressed.
 
But Tiger's year won't be remembered for that late-season brushfire, nor so much for his statistical assault on the record books. No, this year will be recalled for the breadth of his accomplishment and for the sheer thrill at having witnessed all of the mind-boggling moments he engineered. In the end, he left us with but one question.
 
Can he top it in 2001?
 
What do you think of Tiger's chances in 2001?
Can he top 2000? Share your thoughts!
 

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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

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One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.