Sometimes in golf, you just have to hold your hands up and accept you were beaten by the better player. That is a feeling that was once all too familiar for Tiger Woods’ rivals.
That was certainly the case 20 years ago at golf’s most iconic venue St Andrews, which was tamed by Woods in awe-inspiring fashion en route to the first of three triumphs at The Open.
A winning score of 19 under par, eight clear of the chasing pack, underpinned the brilliance of Woods and the chasm in quality to the rest of the field in that period in the sport’s illustrious history.
We take a trip down memory lane to reminisce about Woods’ first feel of the Claret Jug.
HOW IT UNFOLDED
There were 22 birdies and only three bogeys over four days of near flawless golf, while Woods did not once find any of the 128 treacherous St Andrews bunkers – a staggering achievement even in benign conditions.
By the end of round one, it was Ernie Els who led the way, one stroke ahead of Woods and Steve Flesch, providing hope of a duel between two of the game’s greats.
Such a notion was completely obliterated on Friday. As Els stagnated, Woods moved three ahead of the field with a glorious 66. At the end of Saturday’s moving day, that advantage had doubled to six strokes.
There was the briefest of challenges from David Duval on Sunday, an electric start seeing him birdie four of the opening seven holes to get within three – as close as anyone would get to Woods.
Duval made a cringe-inducing eight at the 17th, needing four attempts to finally get out of the Road Hole Bunker, as Els and Thomas Bjorn were left in a tie for second, a distant eight strokes back.
For Woods, the unerring way he won his first Claret Jug would leave his rivals scratching their heads at how to compete with, let alone defeat, this winning machine.
WHAT HE SAID
“It is really hard to put into words the emotions and feelings going through me and the thoughts that are running through my head,” Woods said at the time.
“To have an opportunity to complete the slam at St Andrews where golf all started makes it even more special.
“I’ve been fortunate to have my game peak at the right times. I’ve always said you’d like to have your game peak at four different times a year, but to actually have it happen is a different story.
“So far I’ve had a wonderful, wonderful young career and hopefully I can continue the success I have. If I don’t that’s fine too.
“I am going to keep working on my game, keep trying to get better and we will see what happens.”
THE NOTABLE FACTS
– Woods’ 19-under-par score was a record for any major at the time. Henrik Stenson would record a -20 at Royal Troon in 2016, while Jason Day had also set that benchmark score at the 2015 US PGA Championship.
– His winning margin was the largest in The Open since JH Taylor won by eight in 1913.
– Woods became just the third Open champion after Greg Norman and Nick Price to shoot four rounds under 70.
– At the age of 24, Woods joined Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus in winning all four majors and completing golf’s Grand Slam. He is the youngest player to have done so.
AN UNTHINKABLE 2000
The millennium bug may never have come to fruition, but Woods’ performances in the 2000 majors had the look of a computer game glitch such was his utter dominance.
Vijay Singhfinished the first major of the new century with a slick green jacket at the Masters in April, but Woods completely took apart the field at Pebble Beach to win the U.S. Open a couple of months later.
There were no three-putts on the course’s famous glassy greens and Woods alone finished in the red…at 12 under par! Miguel Angel Jimenez and Els, his nearest “rivals”, were three over.
The 15-stroke margin of victory remains the biggest in major history and was followed by his astounding weekend at St Andrews a month later.
At the US PGA Championship, it was not quite as straightforward as the unheralded Bob May matched his score of 18 under, but Woods was not to be denied in the play-off.
By the start of next year, Woods was champion at Augusta to become the first player to be in possession of all four majors at the same time.