Tiger Woods by now should have accustomed us to the idea of doing the undoable. He won all of them ' the Masters, the U.S. Open, the Open Championship and PGA Championship ' in a one-year span covering 2000 and 2001. While it wasnt the Grand Slam ' winning all four in one calendar year ' nonetheless it was still the only time in history that a competitor won all four in succession. Sportswriters dubbed it the Tiger Slam.
And he not only did something that was previously unbelievable, he accomplished each in unforgettable fashion: for the first, the U.S. Open, he won by an incredible 15 strokes at one of Americas most important courses, Pebble Beach; at the Open Championship, he won by eight at St Andrews, perhaps the most famous course in the world; at the PGA Championship, he not only played the first two rounds with Jack Nicklaus, the pairs only competition playing together, but he won in a thrilling playoff over Bob May; and to complete the Slam, he prevailed over the last nine holes at the Masters in a grinding duel with Phil Mickelson and David Duval at a time when those two opponents were among the most important competitors in the game.
You never get to where you want to be. Thats the beautiful thing about the game, because tomorrow can always be better. -- Tiger Woods
Tiger himself was bowled over by what he had accomplished.
The first two that I won probably could not have happened on two better sites. It's not too often you get to play Pebble Beach and St Andrews. Pebble Beach is probably the greatest golf course we have over here, and St. Andrews is probably the greatest course in the world.
And to win at Valhalla (PGA Championship) under those conditions, having to make birdie after birdie after birdie, just to hang in there, that was tough. And then to do it (at Augusta National) again, one of the most historic sites in all of the world, it's pretty neat.
The story begins in 2000 at Pebble Beach with the 100th playing of U.S. Open. Woods had yet to win the tournament. He opened with a 65, just one shot better than Angel Cabrera (who would edge Tiger Woods to win the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont). In the second round he posted a 69, but the average score was almost 76. Tiger would have done even better, but on the 18th he deposited his drive in the Pacific Ocean and went on to make double bogey. But following that mishap, his lead was still six strokes.
The third round was a huge eye-opener. With the average score standing at 77.12, only Ernie Els was able to break par. The field hit only 43 percent of the greens as the winds off the Pacific soared. But Woods, after an adventure at the third hole where he made triple bogey, was the exception. He hit 12 of a possible 14 fairways, and though he had to battle to shoot a 1-over 71, he turned the tournament into a joke. His lead after three rounds was a whopping 10 shots.
I knew that if I shot even par or something close to that, Id pick up a shot or two just because the conditions were so severe out there, Tiger said when he came off the course Saturday. Little did he know at the time that he had made the fourth round just a formality.
Sunday was a formality indeed ' to everyone but Woods. He continued to bear down, and on the final nine holes he birdied 10, 12, 13 and 14. The last four holes were a coronation of his 15-shot victory.
Hes in another dimension, said a disbelieving Els I dont know what were going to do with him.
Then it was on to the Open Championship and storied old St Andrews. By virtue of his win at Pebble Beach, Tiger had completed his mission of winning all four majors, though not in succession. Amazingly, he had done in at age 24. And, he was just in his fourth year as a professional.
He would completely dominate at St Andrews, shooting 67-66-67-69, the best 72-hole score ever shot at an Open on the Old Course. And he won by eight strokes, the most in any Open since 1913.
My Dad always told me that you always have a choice. You may not like the choice, but you always have one. - Tiger Woods
It almost defies the imagination to state that Woods was never in a bunker. St. Andrews has 128 of these sandy hazards, and Tiger avoided them all over his four-day run. And he birdied 22 holes, almost one in three.
Woods had grabbed the lead at the end of the second round with his 66 and by the end of Round 3, had stretched it to six. Duval posted a mild threat in Round 4, at one point coming within three strokes of Tiger with 11 holes to play. But Duval posted a 43 on the final nine after taking four shots in the Road Hole bunker at 17. Tiger breezed home the winner by eight.
Tom Watson, himself a five-time British Open champion, could only exclaim, Hes raised the bar to a level only he can reach.
Then it was on to the 2000 PGA Championship, held at Valhalla. This one might have been the most satisfying of all Tigers major-championship victories, because it came in a pitched, three-hole playoff battle against one of a younger Woods heroes. Bob May was a golfing legend in Tigers home turf of Southern California.
Tiger was in a familiar position ' in the lead ' going into the third round, but this time it was only a one-stroke advantage. May was one of two players who were a stroke behind, and by the fourth hole Sunday, May had surged into a two-shot lead.
Those two players staged a brilliant duel from that point until the finish. The turning point was the 15th, which could easily have been a three-shot swing with May looking like a near-certain three-shot leader with three holes to play.
That was the hole which saw Woods taking three shots to get to the green, facing a 12-footer for par. And needing only a little more than four feet for a birdie was May. But Tiger coaxed in his putt, May missed, and it was still only a one-stroke lead for May.
On 17, a 422-yarder, Tiger blasted his drive to lob-wedge range and made birdie to knot the score. But on 18, May appeared in the drivers seat again when he made an 18-footer for birdie. Woods, however, again rose to occasion, curling in a six-footer that went into the left side of the cup.
The putt looked scary at first, recalled Tiger. But then I remember thinking, My mother could make this. And with that thought in my mind, I got over the putt and just poured it in.
That sent the pair into a three-hole playoff, mandated for the first time ever by the PGA. Alas, there wasnt much suspense in the extra-hole affair. Woods birdied the first with a 20-foot putt while May could only par. Both men parred the second. May barely missed a 40-footer on the third hole which would have meant birdie, and Tiger blasted from a bunker to two feet for his par. Suddenly, Woods had his third consecutive major. And, Tiger had done it while tying May for a PGA record for lowest score in relation to par ' 18-under.
``This was one memorable battle,'' Woods said. ``He matched me birdie for birdie, shot for shot. That's as good as it gets.'
This was the most exciting one, from a players standpoint, said Woods. The fact that you are playing at a level that is so high, and knowing that on the back nine on Sunday at a major championship that par is not going to win any hole - that is different. Usually you can just kind of cruise in with pars and win. That wasnt going to be the case today.
That set the scene for the fourth jewel in the Tiger Slam, the 2001 Masters. And once again, he led going into the fourth round, once again by just one shot. This time his closest pursuer was Mickelson, although a sizzling 32 on the front nine and birdie on the10th Hole by Duval cost Tiger his solo lead.
Standing on the par-3 16th tee, Duval still had a one-shot lead. But he flew the green with his tee shot and made bogey. Woods, playing two groups behind with Mickelson, birdied the 13th while Duval was having his problems at 16. Tiger took a lead he would never relinquish, hanging on tenaciously and dropped in a 16-foot birdie putt on the final hole to win by two strokes.
Afterwards, after he had finally won the fourth major, he talked about how much pleasure he got from going out on Sunday at the Masters and doing what was required of him to succeed at Augusta.
The enjoyment is going out there and working for it, and grinding it out and going toe-to-toe with two of the best players in the world - David and Phil - playing really well, to go toe-to-toe with them, he said.
That is work, but that's what it's all about. That's the fun of it. And to have that challenge, whether you win or not, that's why we play, to be able to experience that. That is the reason why I practice, to have that feeling, coming down the stretch knowing that you have to hit golf shots against the best players and somehow be able to do it.
Tiger thus had accomplished something very, very special, something that no one else had ever done. Bobby Jones won four majors in 1930, but his four were the U.S. and British Opens and the U.S. and British Amateurs. Only Woods, alone amongst all the golfers who have played a professional golf tournament, has been able to win all four of the professional majors in succession.
It's hard to believe, really, because there are so many things that go into winning a major championship, said Tiger. For that matter, any tournament, but more so majors, because you've got to have your game peak at the right time, and on top of that, you've got to have some luck. You've got to get some good breaks, and you've just got to have everything kind of go right.
And to have it happen four straight times, that's awfully nice. Some of the golfing gods are looking down on me the right way.
Video: Augusta National
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Editor's Note: Matt Adams is a golf journalist, best-selling author (Chicken Soup for the Soul, Fairways of Life) and a golf course general manager. To view Matt's books or sign up for his 'Golf Wisdom Newsletter,'go to www.FairwaysofLife.com.