Ready for a Tiger revival?
Posted May 13, 2013
I can't wait for Father's Day.
Before you accuse me of marital jealousy coming on the heels of a beautiful Mother's Day enjoyed by my wife, let me explain. For me, Father's Day has always been about the United States Open. As far back as I can remember, those Sundays were spent with my father watching his favorite golf tournament.
Making it even more special, now that I'm in my (cough) forties, is that we exist in the era of the most dominant major championship performer in the history of the sport -- well, at least until a few years ago. But, there are a lot of positive signs that we might, once again, be treated to a revival.
In the spring of 2000, even without a win at the Masters we could feel it coming. Tiger Woods was coming off a year in which he won nine times, including eight of his last 11 starts. That August, he held off a hard charging 19-year old from Spain named Sergio Garcia to capture his second major championship and opened the following season with three wins and three second place finishes before The Masters.
While Woods' 7-under par weekend at Augusta National was nice, it wasn't enough to keep up with Vijay Singh, who won his second major championship by 3 shots over Ernie Els. While Tiger's 5th place finish was pretty good for a guy who opened with a 75, it didn't take a thorough investigation to see what was about to happen next. A month and a half later, Woods defended his title at The Memorial Tournament, lapping the field by five strokes and setting up the single greatest run in major championship golf history.
On a spectacular Father's Day weekend on the Monterrey Peninsula, Tiger made a mockery of the United States Open -- or at least the rest of the field. Woods won by a staggering 15 shots, driving away from the so-called competition like Secretariat did at the Belmont Stakes 27 years earlier. That Sunday was nothing more than a coronation, as Woods entered the final round 10 strokes in front and cruised home at 12-under, what was then a record in relation to par.
A month later, at the Old Course, Woods won his first Open Championship -- and the first of two at St. Andrews -- by eight. In those two major championships alone Woods was 31-under par!!! And, consider that Ernie Els, a future Hall of Fame inductee, finished second in each of those two majors, albeit a stunning 23-strokes off the lead. It helps to place the utter dominance of those two victories in perspective.
Woods would also go on to win the PGA Championship in a playoff that August in a dramatic duel with journeyman pro Bob May. It was a win that capped off a summer featuring three straight major championships, the first time that had been accomplished since Ben Hogan won the in 1953. Woods performance that year in the majors was absolutely unthinkable in the modern era, as was the 200 season in it's entirety. Woods totaled nine official victories including the last three major championships in which his score was a combined 49-under par.
Woods would win his first major the following season, to hold all four professional trophies at the same time for the first time in the history of the sport. So, if you're keeping score, from the start of 2000 through the first half of 2001, Woods won four straight majors -- in a ludicrous 65-under par -- and 13 total tournaments in 30 official starts.
So, are we on the verge of a repeat?
Before we attempt to answer that question, we need to consider that we've already been down this road with Woods in the last year or so. Tiger won three times last year but only threatened in one of the four most important events, and at Augusta this year Woods just never looked in complete control of his total game after the unfortunate -- and controversial -- penalty on the 15th hole of his second round.
In all honesty, Woods hasn't really handled the pressure of major championships very well since his overtime, broken-leg victory over Rocco Mediate five summers ago. Yes, it's been that long. And, until he answers that question to himself, it's actually impossible to predict what the rest of this season holds.
With that said, Woods' win at The Players was his most impressive since his victory drought came to an end last spring. He conquered a course on which he is normally uncomfortable, winning for just the second time in 16 professional starts on the Stadium Course. Throw in four wins in seven tournaments in 2013 and a putting stroke that appears to be returning to the glory days of yore and the ingredients are all in place for another historic run.
The United States Open is headed for Merion Golf Club in suburban Philadelphia next month, and at less than 7,000 yards, the course will resemble another shorter, major championship layout from a few years ago. The PGA went to Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 2007 and it was thought that the course was too tricky, too technical for Woods' game. But, a second-round 63 led to an 8-under par total and a 2-stroke win over Woody Austin and Tiger's 4th PGA championship.
The way Woods is playing today, the only thing stopping him from another major championship onslaught is the pressure of living up to the hype. Frankly, it's what stopped him at Augusta as much as the three shots he lost due to the flagstick at 15 on Friday. If Woods can manage that and cross the finish line first at Merion, I think we're looking at another historic run.
Here's looking ahead to Father's Day for reasons other than another tie from the kids.