Tiger Woods still thinks he can grab the title of greatest golfer ever from Jack Nicklaus, even at age 37 and nearly five years removed from his most recent major win (the 2008 U.S. Open). It has also been several years since his 2009 life/career meltdown, so some golf fans aren’t old enough to remember just how great and dominant Tiger Woods once was.
There really was a time when Woods ran the golf world, and Augusta National was his house. Woods is a four-time champion at Augusta, and spent a chunk of the last decade making history nearly every time he showed up for The Masters. And since he is finally a favorite to win The Masters once again this year, we have created a list of Tiger’s five greatest moments at Augusta National and The Masters.
5. The Tiger Slam (2001)
It’s a little shocking how long it has actually been since 2001, but there really was a time when Tiger Woods was the most dominant competitor in any sport in the world. But in 2001, Tiger did something that would make the Skip Bayless types of today lose full control of their bowels: winning the Masters and becoming the champion of his fourth consecutive major…but not all in the same season.
Whether or not this was a true grand slam (Woods had finished T5, six strokes back of champion Vijay Singh in 2000), it was the closest golf had come to having Bobby Jones strolling the fairways again. It still is, too. Today, golf is much more democratic in terms of who wins majors. Fourteen of the last 16 major tournament winners were ranked outside the top 10 golfers in the world when they won. But back in 2001, it was all Tiger.
Woods held off a solid charge from David Duval (!) to win by two strokes. He even birdied the 18th for good measure even though he was already up one stroke on Duval (who had missed an earlier birdie putt which would have tied Woods). The 2001 Masters was Tiger’s exclamation point on his fourth consecutive major win and his ascendance to being the greatest golfer of the 21st century.
4. Tiger tries to win for his dad – and fails (2006)
Woods, Jack, and Nick Faldo are still the only golfers to ever repeat as Masters champions since the tournament started in 1934. In 2006, Tiger was looking to become the only golfer ever to do that twice, after having won the 2005 Masters in dramatic fashion over Chris DiMarco. Instead, Woods came to Augusta with something else on his mind: his father.
Earl Woods was dying, and Tiger wanted to win one more major for him so badly that he pressed too hard just two shots behind the leaders and came up just short, three shots back of champion Phil Mickelson. His father died three weeks after the tournament. Woods admits it is his greatest disappointment.
Woods missed the cut at the U.S. Open later that June, obviously still grieving from his father’s death. He did win the Open Championship in July, but Woods still deeply regrets his final round 70 at Augusta in 2006.
Why is this a “top” moment? Because at a time when Woods was almost robotic in his dominance, he showed a soft, human side that finally crept into his game and made people actually feel for him. Goliath stubbed his toe. And even some who never rooted for Tiger found themselves wishing he had taken home that championship.
3. Tiger’s third-round 65 (1997)
Everybody already knew who Tiger Woods was in 1997. Then 21, he was too much of a prodigy to be ignored even though he had never been under par in his two previous appearances at the Masters. But nobody expected Woods to come out and set tournament records for margin of victory (12 shots) and scoring (270, -18) while becoming the first non-white player to win the Masters. as well as its youngest-ever champion.
This was more than a coming-out party for golf’s next big thing. It was utter destruction of golf’s most hallowed course by a new generation of player who could hit the ball a mile and had a short game that could overcome even the trickiest greens. It was this win that spurred Augusta National and many other clubs to begin the constant lengthening and altering of their courses in an attempt to try to challenge Tiger and the others like him who would follow.
Woods went on to shoot a final-round 69 as he cruised to victory, but his third round was his star-making performance. Woods’s 65 was at least four strokes better than anyone in the top 10, except light-hitting Tom Kite (66). However, Kite had shot a first round 77, so he was never a real threat to Woods. Not that anyone else was either.
2. “The Chip,” and missed high-five, on 16 (2005)
After starting the final round three shots behind Woods, Chris DiMarco was within one shot on the 16th green when Woods sunk an incredible chip shot. Tiger then blew his subsequent two-shot lead on 17 and 18, forcing a playoff between he and DiMarco. But Woods ended up winning his fourth (and most recent) Green Jacket anyway with a birdie on the 18th, the first hole of the playoff.
1. Tiger owns Retief Goosen to repeat (2002)
Woods and Goosen were tied at -11 after the third round. But a walk around Augusta on Sunday for Goosen became one of the many horror stories opponents can tell, thanks to playing with the (then) most dominant golfer in the world.
Goosen shot a two-over 74 to finish three shots behind Woods. Tiger cruised to a one-under 71, and just stood by and watched Goosen (the defending U.S. Open champion at the time) struggle with shot after shot (not the last time he would melt down in the final round of a major).
It is the moment – at the Masters anyway – that most clearly shows just how intimidating Tiger Woods used to be. Obviously, not in a physical sense, but in that era nearly every golfer who played with Tiger felt the push to make better and better shots and to make more and more putts because they knew Woods would always have an answer. After all, this was only a year after the Tiger Slam, and two years after he tied the scoring record at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
Goosen was even fighting history in 2002: Woods was seeking (and succeeded) to become only the third golfer to repeat as Masters champion along with Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo. I’d say that’s enough to intimidate most golfers.
It wasn’t Woods at his flashiest or even playing his best golf. But it was Tiger Woods at his most Tiger Woods. Calmly strolling the fairways with that scowl on his face, cursing at bad shots, doing the club spin on good ones, and generally seeming invincible. Augusta was especially tough that Sunday, with no one in the top 10 shooting below a 70. Yet Woods owned the entire day from start to finish with a minimum of drama while everyone else struggled. A classic win by the best front-running golfer in history.
Bonus: Phil puts the jacket back on Tiger (2005)
In 2004, Phil Mickelson had finally broken through and won his first major. From that point, the rivalry between Mickelson and Woods was on. The two players were nearly always in contention for most major tournaments, the world number one ranking, and the title of best American golfer as well. Mickelson was also a fan favorite too, so when he won, most assumed he would take the leap and challenge Woods in every major.
The above photo was taken after Woods beat Chris DiMarco in a playoff in 2005 (see No. 2), the moment when one rival had to hand the trophy to another was captured. And the look on Woods’ face was pretty priceless. As Phillips said when he sent me the link to the image, “Oh to have a caption contest for that photo.”