May 14, 2021

Sports Legend

Tiger Woods won it all 20 years ago in the ‘Tiger Slam’


Using his hat to fight back tears, Woods began to show slight cracks in his usually stoic facade as his momentous achievement sank.

Meanwhile, a relieved and ecstatic Earl and Kultida Woods waited to hug their son as he left Augusta National’s iconic 18th green.

Woods is hugged by his father Earl after winning the 2001 Masters.

And so was born the “Tiger Slam”.

While not the more traditional ‘grand slam’ in golf – holding all titles in the same calendar year – the ‘tiger slam’ consisted of winning the last three majors in 2000, then the Masters. in 2001.

At the time, Woods – a child prodigy and seemingly always destined to be a star – was playing at a much higher level than any of his competition, and beyond being the most identifiable black player in golf, he was arguably the most recognizable name. in sports around the world. According to Forbes, Woods has made $ 1.4 billion since turning pro in 1996.

Yet for the young man from California, none of this seemed to matter.

“It’s a strange calm. I achieved what I wanted to accomplish,” he said at his 2001 Masters crowning ceremony.
1964 US Open winner Ken Venturi was more emphatic in analyzing Woods’ success.

“I think this is the greatest achievement I have ever experienced in any sport.”

READ: A Tiger’s Trek: The Life & Times of Golf’s Greatest Star
Woods donned the green jacket in 2001 with the help of previous year's champion Vijay Singh.

Blowing the competition

In June 2000, Woods was already a big winner twice.

In 1997, he became the youngest Masters champion for his first major victory, finishing 12 strokes ahead of Tom Kite – the margin of victory is still the biggest in tournament history – before securing his second victory at the PGA Championship. in 1999.

He appeared to be the most famous person on the planet and couldn’t go anywhere on the course without a crowd of fans or photographers documenting his every move.

However, as a child star and under the relentless guidance of his father – especially when it comes to the racism he might face – Woods had learned to put up walls to alleviate outside noise and pressure, according to Jeff Benedict. , co-authored the biography on Woods, which served as the basis for last year’s HBO documentary.

“His father had truly been racist on a more intimate scale than Tiger,” Benedict told CNN Sport. “Earl Woods has experienced racism at every stage of his life. … And he was trained by his father on racism. And for his father, I think the racial implications of Tiger’s accomplishments were very significant.

Woods celebrates after sinking a four-foot putt to win the 1997 Masters.

“All [the media] focused on the racial angle of what Tiger was doing. When there is so much saturation coverage, it’s impossible to ignore it, especially when you’re in the center of it.

“But I think part of what makes his achievement out of the world is that he did it amid all of these other external pressures that none of the other golfers he competed with did. had to face. “

Not that you noticed that Woods seemed to be under undue pressure. He dominated from start to finish at the 2000 US Open, securing a remarkable 15-stroke victory, the biggest margin of victory in a major championship in golf history.

Woods looked at ease on the notoriously difficult Pebble Beach course as his performance sent an ominous message to his rivals.

Woods holds the US Open trophy.

New York Post sports columnist Mark Cannizzaro describes Woods’ dominance over the rest of the US Open field as “absurd” and “unimaginable.”

“It was really one of those golf tournaments where it seemed like everyone on the course was playing on a different golf course than Tiger’s,” Cannizzaro said.

A month later, at the Open Championship in St. Andrews, Scotland, Woods showed he really plays at a different level than everyone else, winning by eight strokes to win back-to-back majors.

“There’s a point where he’s got so much momentum and he’s almost like a steamroller with a club. It’s almost like you’re not really watching a golf competition,” recalls Benedict.

“You look at Tiger against almost nature, because there is no one, in these particular tournaments, there was no one else who was even in the same orbit that he was in.”

READ: Golfer Joaquin Niemann helps raise $ 2.1million to save little cousin’s life
Woods tees-off on the 13th hole on the Old Course in St. Andrews at the Open Championship.

Forced to fight

With two majors in his pocket, Woods traveled to Valhalla Golf Club in Ky. For the 2000 PGA Championship as speculation intensified as to whether a golfer could hold all four majors at the same time and achieve. the unthinkable.

After two tournaments where he faced little competition, Woods had a much more severe test in Valhalla from an unlikely source: PGA Tour player Bob May.

May, who had previously only played in four majors, stayed with Woods hole-for-hole over the course of the four days. In fact, after all four rounds, May left Woods with a tough downhill putt to take him to the playoffs.

However, reflecting on the tournament afterwards, May said he “never thought [Woods] what will be missing. ”

Woods indeed drilled the putt to send the tournament to the three-hole playoffs.

Woods begins to swing during the PGA Championship.

With the crowd celebrating his every move, it looked like Woods’ victory was destined. And he won, along the way, giving us one of the most memorable “Tiger Slam” moments, running and showing a rolling ball before the putt enters the hole.

It’s a win that allowed Woods to show another side of his game, which added another layer of awesomeness – if possible – to the “Tiger Slam” for Benedict.

“He showed that if he ran away like that or if he was in a competition where there is actually another golfer who is neck and neck with him which adds tremendous pressure and the stakes seem high. higher and the margin of error becomes much smaller to be able to survive and win, he always does.

“In my mind there is a lot more pressure on him than on the golfer challenging him because nobody expects the challenger to beat him, whereas everyone expects Tiger to do that. . “

READ: Slum golf: A brand new ball game in the streets of Mumbai
Woods takes his second shot on the 18th on the third hole of the PGA Championship playoffs.

Fly or fall

With eight months between the PGA Championship and the Masters in April of the following year, Woods had ample time to consider the possibility of holding all four majors at once.

Despite the pressure, Woods felt more comfortable heading into the event in 2001, according to Cannizzaro.

After an opening day where he finished five headshots, Woods has gradually moved up the standings.

By the end of the second round, he was two heads off. At the end of the third lap, he was leading the pack with a shot.

Despite a late charge from American golfer David Duval, Woods – decked out in his now famous red shirt and black pants – was able to make history by winning his second Green Jacket and finishing the “Tiger Slam”.

Whether you’re watching TV or listening to the radio, Woods rolling in that birdie-winning putt on Augusta National’s 18th green was one of those “I remember where I was when I watched” moments.

“I think everyone enjoyed that they were watching something unprecedented, something that they might never see again – especially in the modern age, for someone to be so dominant, for string together as many championships in a row, ”said Benedict.

“Tiger was the greatest golfer we have ever seen.”

Woods celebrates after winning the 2001 Masters.

Pressure

At the beginning of Benedict’s biography on Woods, he and his co-author Armen Keteyian compare Woods to William Shakespeare, in the sense that the golfer is a “once in history” individual – an individual we will probably never see again. .

During that incredible 12 month period of playing golf at a level we had never seen before, the pressure was “extra baggage that the superstar is carrying that others cannot see,” explains Benedict, who adds that Woods has developed his own mindset to cope and allow him to play his own game.

“When you are this exceptional it is difficult even for your fellow competitors to appreciate and understand the mentality that these few bring to their sport,” says Benedict.

“Tiger is different from everyone, like LeBron [James] is different from everyone. Face other great athletes, but there are the biggest and then there are the big ones.

“When you’re the best, and Tiger was the greatest to ever play the game, he’s in a place where it’s truly impossible for anyone to fully appreciate the mental aspect of their approach to the sport.”

Visit CNN.com/sport for more news, features and videos
Wood & # 39;  tee shot on the 14th hole of the Pebble Beach golf course at the US Open.

As with LeBron James, Tom Brady or Michael Jordan, Woods’ desire to win never seemed satisfied and he “was always thinking of the next one,” according to Benedict.

He went on to win two majors in 2002 and nine more in total, including his memorable Masters comeback victory in 2019.

“How do you get the will to stay on top of the mountain? After you’ve conquered the mountain and you own it, how are you hungry enough to now want to shoot down everyone who goes up to try and be next? on the mountain? ”asks Benoît.

“There are very, very few athletes who have the drive and the ability to do it. The history and annals of the sport are littered with great athletes who achieve championship status and are then overtaken by the next person. There are very, very few who have dominated. For years like Tiger. “