Any man with 14 major titles and a three-car garage for a trophy case can look back on many great days in his career; although, Tiger Woods needed an expensive pair of binoculars to see them before firing a final-round 62 at the Honda Classic. From the low-altitude stingers to the high-drama finish, those who classify the performance as vintage Tiger might actually be understating the matter.
He began the week in hot pursuit of the PGA Tour record for most four-letter words used in a single afternoon, a mark he may already hold. By Sunday, however, Woods’ entire game had risen to an extraordinary level. The length off the tee, the flighting of his irons in a stout breeze, the clutch putting down the stretch – Tiger could not have finished T-2 and looked any better doing it.
There’s the rub. When compiling a list of the best rounds Tiger has ever played, you’ll find a lot to choose from and a notable number of similarities among the nominees. A low score at a major obviously receives top consideration, as does a furious comeback that leads to a victory — but Sunday’s remarkable rally didn’t net a ‘W’.
Thus, it’s the only entry in my top 10 that didn’t escort the Dude in the Red Shirt to a trophy ceremony. Which is another way of saying just how good it was.
10) 2009 BMW Championship (third round) — Coming off a too-little, too-late birdie barrage in the final round in Boston, Woods dismantled Cog Hill, winning by eight after Saturday’s awe-inspiring 63. This also happens to be Tiger’s last Tour win — less than a month after he lost to Y.E. Yang at the PGA Championship and two weeks after falling to Heath Slocum at the Barclays. Does that make what happened last Sunday an omen?
9) 1999 Memorial (final round) — Still the most astonishing short-game performance I have ever seen. Woods couldn’t hit a green to save his life but got up and down from ridiculous spots a half-dozen times to beat Vijay Singh by two. The rough at Jack’s House was brutal that year. So, too, was Tiger’s sense of humor.
8) 2012 Honda Classic (final round) — In terms of sheer golf, last Sunday’s round ranks among the very best Tiger has ever played. If he’d made any putts Thursday, we might have gotten a Woods-Rory McIlroy tussle for the ages – but you can’t spot the world’s best player nine strokes at the start of the day and walk away victorious. Even after a 62.
7) 2000 U.S. Open — Pick any round you want. When a guy wins our national championship by 15 strokes, every U.S. citizen has a say. Call it the freedom of choice.
6) 2006 Deutsche Bank Championship (final round) — Exactly two years earlier, Singh had triumphed in a stare-down with Woods, not only beating Red Shirt, but claiming his No. 1 spot in the world ranking. Tiger began Labor Day ’06 trailing Singh by three, a deficit he’d eliminated by the fifth hole. His closing 63 led to a two-shot victory — his fifth consecutive win in a streak that would reach seven.
5) 2005 Masters (third round) — Woods made seven consecutive birdies Sunday morning to shoot a 65 after a weather-related suspension, which wiped out Chris DiMarco’s three-stroke lead and put Tiger ahead by three with 18 holes to play. Much later that day, Woods rescued his fourth green jacket with the famous stop-and-drop birdie chip at the 16th — people conveniently forget he bogeyed the final two holes to allow DiMarco into a playoff.
4) 2009 Memorial (final round) — Familiar storyline: Woods trailed by four entering the final round, then used Chateau de Nicklaus to remind everyone just how good he can be. His closing 65 was highlighted by a birdie-birdie finish, good for a one-stroke triumph over Jim Furyk and his fourth Memorial title. Tiger hit all 14 fairways that afternoon and ignited his charge by chipping in for eagle at the par-5 11th. Just showing off for Jack, perhaps.
3) 1997 Masters (third round) — Young Eldrick began his first major as a pro with a front-nine 40, shot 30 on the back, then stepped on the gas pedal hard enough to push it through the floorboard. Saturday’s 65 was a work of art — dominance amplified to a point that his opponents were rendered helpless. After playing alongside Woods and watching him build a nine-stroke lead through 54 holes, Colin Montgomerie declared the tournament over. Not exactly venture-out-on-a-limb material, but precise. Tiger by 12.
2) 2000 AT&T Pebble Beach (final round) — As enunciated in a column I wrote on this tournament last month, unquestionably the greatest comeback I’ve seen in any sport. Woods trailed Matt Gogel by seven with seven holes to play, then finished eagle-birdie-par-birdie to shoot 64 and win by two. The fact that it was Red Shirt’s sixth consecutive victory did nothing to devalue its mythical qualities. It also served as a competitive precursor to his U.S. Open rout at Pebble that June.
1) 2007 PGA Championship (second round) — The 63 at Southern Hills is Woods’ lowest major-championship round and matches the best 18-hole score produced by anyone at a major, a list that seems to grow longer by the year. Tiger lipped out his birdie putt at the 18th, depriving him of sole ownership of that historic trinket, but he did pick up his 13th big title that Sunday. Lucky number, perhaps. Fourteen has been the one Woods really struggles with.