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The Year of the Tiger

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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!