The pressure had been levied. The hype matched. The questions answered.
Ive never had a feeling like this before, he said. I just started thinking, You know, I dont have anymore shots to play. Im done ' I won the Masters.
Woods didnt just win the 2001 Masters; he won his fourth consecutive major championship ' a feat never before accomplished on the professional level.
And after that final putt toppled in from 15 feet on the final hole, Tiger walked to the side, and in a brief but sudden emotional impact, the enormity of it all hit him.
It all began a year earlier in Augusta, Ga., when Woods opened in 75 and finished six strokes back of eventual champion Vijay Singh. The next major was the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He won by 15. Then the British Open at St. Andrews. He won by 12. Next was the PGA Championship. He defeated Bob May in the years most compelling event.
Congratulations, Tiger, youve just won three straight majors. Can you finish the Slam?
The Grand Slam, the Sequential Slam, the Tiger Slam ' it wasnt in a calendar year, but by any name, it was an opportunity to win four straight major championships. And no sooner had Woods hoisted the Wannamaker Trophy for the second time, he was inundated with questions on completing the cycle.
Every year, Tiger speaks of peaking four times. He started slowly in 2001, but almost as a byproduct of his preparation for Augusta, he won both the Bay Hill Invitational and The Players Championship ' his two prior starts before the Masters.
His game was on its way to reaching its first crescendo.
Throughout the week he played it cool. He didnt use sunglasses to hide the truth in his eyes. He didnt produce evasive answers to direct questions. He didnt show a hint of bravado.
What he was was calm, collected and unabashedly focused. No outside agency ' neither man nor media ' could tilt his plane.
Do I feel the burden of it? No, Woods said matter-of-factly the Tuesday before the first round.
From anyone else, we would scoff at such an outrageous statement. How dare he insult our intelligence!
But from Woods ' a man seemingly impervious to pressure ' it sounded sincere.
He shot 70 Thursday and ended the day tied for 15th. A Friday 66 had him tied for second. By Saturday, he was alone in first after a 68. Another 68 gave him a two-stroke victory.
For the second time Woods donned the green jacket. Coincidentally, it was the same size. He had been fitted for a looser version in 1997, not wanting to grow out of it anytime soon.
Tiger did plenty of growing in the five years after his first Augusta triumph. Physically, he added bulk. As an example of his fitness craze, his 2002 champions dinner will include a healthy dose of steak and chicken, rather than the fattening cheeseburgers he served up in 98.
However, it is mentally where the most maturing has occurred.
When I won in '97, I had not been a pro a full year yet. I guess I was a little young, a little naive, and didn't understand what I accomplished, for at least a year or two after that event, he said upon winning.
This year, I understand. I've been around the block. I've witnessed a lot of things since that year. You know, I have better appreciation for winning a major championship, and to win it ' to win four of them in succession, it's just ' it's hard to believe, really, because there's so many things that go into winning a major championship.
Tigers sixth career major victory was not only emotionally exhausting but physically draining, as well. In fact, defeating Phil Mickelson and David Duval proved to be a sickening experience.
I was beat, he recalled earlier this year. I was starting to get sick on Sunday, and by the time I got home Monday, I had a 104-degree temperature. I wore my body down pretty hard.
Woods didnt win another major for the remainder of the season, though he did add a couple of more titles to his resume. He also won his third consecutive Player of the Year award, along with countless other honors.
This year, he appeared to be on a similar path to Magnolia Lane. He once again won Bay Hill, but failed to repeat at Sawgrass.
He then decided to take a fortnight off before making the trip to Georgia. I dont want to take two weeks off, but Im going to, he said at The Players Championship. Tiger stated he didnt want to play last weeks BellSouth Classic, and couldnt make the trip to Houston, two weeks ago, because he had to attend the wedding of a friend hes known since the first grade.
The Augusta National that awaits Tiger and company is vastly different from the one of a year ago. Its reshaped in spots and 300 yards longer. Woods ' and common sense ' say the changes werent made to deter another Tiger triumph. If anything, the alterations increase the odds for a repeat victory.
I like the changes, what they have done. I like how they have now made driving a priority, not just hitting second shots, and obviously putting, but now youve got to get the ball in play, he said.
I spoke with [Augusta National Chairman] Hootie [Johnson] about the changes, and the changes are not for me. Theyre for the kids that are coming up in the future.
Theyre getting bigger and stronger, and the new technology is helping out. Its only going to enhance that in the future. So, I guess they went ahead and took a step to prevent players in the future from shooting tournament low scores.
Tigers record score of 18-under-par 270 (set in 1997) may be safe for a while. And should anyone break it, it may well be him.
Woods, once again, has been gearing his game for the stretch run down Magnolia Lane. Hes been arduously practicing that one shot he may or may not have to use over the weekend. If need be, hell be ready.
A successful defense wont come easy. Mickelson, Duval, Singh, Els, Garcia, Olazabal and others have no desire to watch Woods hand himself another green jacket.
It will be a matter of who peaks at the right moment. Whom fate shines promisingly upon. And whose emotions can stay intact until that final winning putt falls come Sunday.