Search

Hat Trick With his third major victory in nine weeks, Tiger Woods laid to rest golf's greatest ghosts at Valhalla and staked a claim to the greatest season in history

Aug. 28, 2000
Aug. 28, 2000

Table of Contents
Aug. 28, 2000

NFL Preview 2000

Hat Trick With his third major victory in nine weeks, Tiger Woods laid to rest golf's greatest ghosts at Valhalla and staked a claim to the greatest season in history

Late on Sunday evening Tiger Woods and his processional toured
the grounds of Valhalla Golf Club, attending to some of the
obligations that come with making history. Champagne was poured,
presentations made and everywhere Woods went he was fussed over
as if he were a visiting pasha. One PGA Championship official
shadowed Woods's every move, his only duty being to lug around
the oversized Wanamaker Trophy, which Woods had retained for
another year by successfully defending his title earlier in the
day. Another minion was serving him food, including a plate of
cantaloupe and pineapple, a serving of rice and a strawberry
Popsicle, all of which Woods scarfed down as he floated from one
function to the next.

This is an article from the Aug. 28, 2000 issue

Amidst the pomp and circumstance Woods wore his usual superstar
sheen, his omnipresent smile like an endless row of piano keys,
but as soon as he hit the parking lot, something changed. Away
from the bright lights and fawning fans his star power seemed to
drain away. By the time Woods made the long walk across the
parking lot to a waiting stretch limousine, he was walking with a
pronounced limp. "My calf is killing me," he groaned, referring
to soreness in his right leg. Settling into the limo, the weight
of the world seemed to finally hit him. "Man, I'm tired," Woods
said before disappearing into the night. "It's been a long day."

To see a spent and suffering Woods was to be reminded that he's
still flesh and blood, a fact all but obscured by the
otherworldly golf he had played over the final day of the PGA.
Pushed to the brink by fearless 31-year-old journeyman Bob May,
Woods responded with the most clutch performance of an already
legendary career. Trailing by two strokes early in the final
round, he played the last 12 regulation holes in seven under par
to force a three-hole playoff and then won the trophy with a
birdie and a pair of bloodless pars.

This was golf to raise the dead, and as Woods's dominance
continues, it has become increasingly apparent that he's
competing only against the ghosts of the game's greats. For
Woods, this PGA was his third victory by a record-low score in a
major championship in the past nine weeks, following wins by
unprecedented margins at the U.S. and British Opens. He now joins
Ben Hogan as the only other player to prevail in three
professional majors during a season. Hogan's hat trick, in 1953,
has always ranked alongside Bobby Jones's Grand Slam in '30 and
Byron Nelson's '45 campaign, when Nelson won 18 tournaments,
including 11 in a row, as the standards by which a standout
season is measured. For nearly half a century none of these
performances has been matched, and now, suddenly, these benchmark
years all have been surpassed by Woods in 2000. With the thunder
of his PGA victory still echoing, it's time to put into words
what Woods has said so eloquently with his clubs: He has wrought
the greatest season in golf history.

"Someday I'll tell my grandkids I played in the same tournament
as Tiger Woods," Hall of Famer Tom Watson said last week. "We are
witnessing a phenomenon here that the game may never, ever see
again."

On Sunday, May played like a champion. Woods played like a god,
albeit one who got off to a slow start. When he three-putted the
6th hole for his second bogey of the day, Woods found himself in
a four-way tie for second, two in arrears of May, who was rousing
the specter of Jack Fleck (chart, page 75). Woods rallied with
consecutive birdies on 7 and 8 to pull even with May, and a back
nine for the ages ensued.

On the par-5 10th both players got up-and-down from the sand for
birdie. On 11, May sank a 25-foot bomb for a birdie that
propelled him back into the lead. At 12, a brutal 467-yard par-4
that is Valhalla's number 1 handicap hole, May stuffed an
eight-iron from 181 yards to two feet for his third straight
birdie. Warming to the chase, Woods drilled a 15-footer to stay
one down. Both played brilliant shots into the par-3 14th, and
Woods holed his downhill, sidehill 15-foot putt. May stepped up
and topped him with a tricky 12-footer. How long could the
perfect golf continue? "It was an incredible battle," Woods said.
"We never backed off. Birdie for birdie, shot for shot, that's as
good as it gets."

The drama heightened at the par-4 15th. May striped a seven-iron
to within six feet of the cup, while Woods pulled his approach to
the left and played an indifferent putt from off the green. It
looked like May might go three strokes ahead with three holes to
play. Still away, Woods then buried a big-breaking 15-footer to
save par. "I knew if I made mine, it would make his putt a little
bit longer," Woods said later, and sure enough, May blew his
birdie chance, his first stumble.

At first blush May seems as drab as the khaki-olive ensemble he
wore on Sunday, but beneath that slightly chubby, balding
exterior beats the heart of a daredevil with a need for speed. A
Southern California native, May owns three motorcycles, including
such crotch rockets as a Ducati and a Kawasaki Ninja, and he has
piloted speedboats in excess of 120 mph. His game has been
hardened by years in exile on the European tour, where he often
played for his supper. If May, with that disconcerting hitch in
his swing and zero career PGA Tour victories on his resume,
didn't belong on the same course as Woods, someone forgot to tell
him.

Woods finally drew even with a textbook birdie on 17, and on 18,
an uphill par-5 of 542 yards, both reached the saddle-shaped
green with two mighty blows, setting up long, difficult lag
putts. May went first, from the front left, and his nerve
momentarily deserted him. He blasted his putt clear off the
green, 15 feet above the hole, and when Tiger putted to within
six feet, it looked as if the fight might be over. But then May
brushed in his ball with alarming ease, and suddenly Woods needed
a knee-knocking downhill six-footer to prevent an upset that
would haunt him for the rest of his career. Once again, he willed
his ball into the cup. "That's why he's Tiger Woods," said May.

The ensuing three-hole playoff--a new format the PGA of America
has instituted for its championship beginning this year--seemed
anticlimatic, especially after Woods rolled in a 20-footer on the
first extra hole, the 16th, to take his first lead since the 2nd
hole. Woods's finger-wagging celebration following his birdie may
have been the most animated of his career. He held on to the lead
with a scrappy par on 17--out of the rough, off a cart path and
into a drainage area. At 18, Woods got up-and-down from the front
bunker to seal the win.

Woods's and May's four-round totals of minus 18 broke the PGA
Championship standard of minus 17 set by Steve Elkington and
Colin Montgomerie in 1995, meaning Woods owns or co-owns the
scoring record in all four majors. More mind-blowing: Were it not
for one bad three-hole stretch in April, we could be enjoying a
new Spike Lee movie, Summer of Slam. During the first round of
the Masters, Woods double-bogeyed the 10th hole--his approach shot
plugging in the greenside bunker--and then tripled the short,
dangerous par-3 12th hole, when his eight-iron shot got caught up
in the swirling breeze, landed on the bank short of the green and
trickled into Rae's Creek. In the span of three holes he dropped
five strokes to par, but with steady play the rest of the way, he
finished fifth, six strokes behind winner Vijay Singh.

Woods's unprecedented play in the majors this year is what gives
his season the nod over those of Jones, Nelson and Hogan. Jones's
Grand Slam was vastly different from the modern Slam. Sure, he
won the U.S. and British Opens, but he didn't have to face the
era's top professionals in victories at the U.S. and British
Amateurs. As for Nelson's storied year, he won only the one major
that was played that year (the PGA), as the Masters and the U.S.
and British Opens were all canceled because of World War II. The
fact that Nelson was 4-F because of a blood condition meant that
he faced thin fields throughout his record season. (For example,
U.S. Army Air Corps Captain Hogan wasn't discharged until August
1945.) In his signature season Hogan won his three majors by a
combined 15 strokes, or put another way, Woods's margin of
victory at this year's U.S. Open.

Woods's mastery has extended far beyond the majors. He has seven
victories this year, and with the $900,000 payday from the PGA,
he has already broken his own single-season earnings record of
1999, with $6,692,821. He's also on his way to shattering one of
the game's most hallowed records. In golf, the equivalent of Ted
Williams's .406 batting average in '41 has been Sam Snead's
season-scoring record of 69.23, set in 1950. Woods's scoring
average is now 68.59. The last time Woods failed to break par was
on May 11, in the first round of the, ahem, Byron Nelson Classic,
a span of 27 rounds.

Woods has even overwhelmed the most discerning of critics. "I
kept saying, 'I can't understand why we don't have anybody else
playing that well,'" Jack Nicklaus said last week. "I am more
understanding now. He's that much better."

Woods got an overdue audience with Nicklaus when they were paired
for the first time in competition during the first two rounds at
Valhalla, a pleasing bit of symmetry as the Olden Bear brought to
a close a sentimental season of bidding adieu to each of the
major championships, the tournaments that have defined his
career. Nicklaus couldn't keep up with Woods, who wowed his idol
with spectacular ball striking, hitting 16 greens in regulation
on Thursday and averaging 329.5 yards on his drives. "He shot the
easiest 66 today," Nicklaus said following Round 1. "It looked
like a 60. Phenomenal control, phenomenal concentration,
phenomenal putter."

At the U.S. Open, Woods didn't have a three-putt; at the British
Open he didn't hit a single bunker. With both Pebble Beach and
the Old Course playing hard and fast, his victories were models
of precision and restraint. At Valhalla, with its generous
fairways and receptive greens, Woods clubbed the par-5s (ranging
in length from 535 to 597 yards) into submission, birdieing all
four on Thursday by reaching the greens with a seven-iron, a
seven-iron, a four-iron and a seven-iron. "My gosh, he hits the
ball a long way," Nicklaus said, sounding like a man who had
finally found religion.

On Friday, Woods continued the onslaught, birdieing three of the
par-5s to anchor a 67. Nicklaus, coping with the death of his
mother, Helen, two days earlier, would shoot 77-71 to miss
another cut, but on the par-4 13th hole, Tiger and the Bear
finally provided the symbolic moment that everyone had been
craving. Both played nice approach shots into the hole's island
green, and as they neared the narrow connecting bridge, each man
slowed to a halt. Woods motioned with his hand: After you.
Nicklaus returned the gesture: No, after you. Woods smiled and
then crossed the bridge, in the lead, as always.

Saturday seemed ripe for Woods to turn on the afterburners. It
had been hotter than the Gore daughters in the days leading up to
the PGA, forcing the Valhalla grounds crew to soak the greens to
keep the grass from withering. When a storm blew through in the
wee hours of Friday morning, dumping more than three inches of
rain, suddenly the fairways were soft and receptive, and the
greens downright marshmallowy. Saturday also brought easier pin
placements, and the birdies flew fast and furious. Jose Maria
Olazabal went out early and rang up a scorching 63, tying 18
other players for the lowest score in major championship history.

Though his swing was out of sync early in the third round, Woods
scraped around brilliantly, and at the 10th hole he was four
under on the day and three shots clear of the field. But he had
flown too high on borrowed wings. His shaky ball striking finally
caught up with him at 12, where he took a stunning double bogey
that trimmed his lead to one over his plucky playing partner,
Scott Dunlap. Woods took another bogey at 15, pulling a six-iron
40 yards left into the cabbage. With a clutch two-putt birdie at
18 he regained sole possession of the lead, one ahead of May and
Dunlap, who would fade on Sunday with a 75.

So the final round came, and Woods and May had the chance to
renew acquaintances. They had grown up 20 minutes apart in
Southern California, back in the days when Woods wasn't the only
prodigy. Nearly every Sunday morning for six years, from the time
Bob was 11, his parents would schlepp him clear across the Los
Angeles basin, from their middle-class neighborhood in La Habra
to the rarefied air of Bel-Air Country Club, where Bob had a
standing 7 a.m. lesson with Bel-Air's legendary Eddie (Li'l Pro)
Merrins. It's unusual for an outsider to be accorded such a
welcome at Bel-Air, but Merrins saw something special in May, who
would more than fulfill the promise. At 16 he played his way into
the L.A. Open, becoming the youngest competitor in the
tournament's history (a distinction Woods usurped by a few
months, when he was 16). May so dominated the junior golf scene
in Southern California that Woods, seven years his junior, says
now, "I just wanted to hopefully one day win as many tournaments
as he did."

Bob May, take heart. Yours are hardly the only records that Woods
has smashed as he continues to overwhelm golf's notions of the
impossible.

COLOR PHOTO: COVER PHOTOGRAPH BY ROBERT BECK COVER Guts and Glory The astonishing Tiger Woods survives an epic duel to win his third major of the yearCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN BIEVER Say aaahhh Woods's recovery on the final playoff hole, like most of his shots all week, left the gallery agape with amazement.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN BIEVER May day A poor drive on the last playoff hole left May in thick rough that effectively killed his chances of prolonging the match.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN BIEVER Eye of the Tiger Woods bounced this shot off a cart path at 17, but was still able to save a crucial par to preserve his victory.COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO Stayin' alive A bird's-eye view of the final hole in regulation shows Woods's fist-pumping response to his clutch birdie putt.
"It was an incredible battle," said Woods. "Shot for shot,
that's as good as it gets."
Facing a knee-knocking, downhill six-footer to avoid an upset,
Woods once again willed the ball into the cup