Tiger hits the ground running
It would be fair to speculate that when the competitors for the Millennium Open arrived at St Andrews in 2000 there were few, if any, who felt they had the beating of Tiger Woods.
Fast forward 15 years and there is hardly a player who, until a couple of weeks ago, wouldn’t have fancied his chances against the former world No1. In the midst of another swing change – undertaken in an attempt to protect his body from injury – Woods has struggled for most of 2015. He has been a shadow of his former self.
Now, though, he will be returning to the scene of some of his greatest moments in the game in a far better frame of mind after finishing in a share of 32nd at the Greenbrier Classic in the United States. On the face of it, the result may not seem particularly impressive, but it followed on the heels of a missed cut at the US Open, included three under-par rounds for the first time this year, and was rounded off with a bogey-free final round. Of greater significance was the fact that he finished top of the statistics in terms of proximity to the hole with his approach shots.
It is all in stark contrast, however, to the player who turned up at St Andrews in 2000. Much of the conversation that week centred on Woods’s stunning victory a few weeks earlier at the US Open at Pebble Beach - when he lapped the field to win by a barely credible margin of 15 strokes. The question now was whether the young phenomenon could, at 24, become the fifth and youngest player to complete a career Grand Slam of all four majors.
Woods was not to disappoint. Playing a game of which no one was familiar – to borrow Ben Hogan’s apposite description of a young and powerful Jack Nicklaus – Tiger continued in much the same vein as he had played at Pebble Beach, a course that nestles by the sea on the west coast of the United States.
Woods was spectacular all week at St Andrews. He had four rounds in the 60s, made just three bogeys, and avoided all 112 bunkers on the Old Course. He finished at 19 under par, setting an Open Championship record for St Andrews in the process, and claimed victory by eight strokes over Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn and Ernie Els, of South Africa.
WHAT THEY SAID …
“He’s raised the bar to a level only he can reach.” - Tom Watson, five-time winner of the Claret Jug
"All players have some pre-shot routine. Tiger has blitzed all that. There's no twitch, no lift of the hat, no wasted energy." – Nick Faldo, three-time Open champion
“I've seen him mis-hit only three shots this week. I played like that once in my life, at the PGA (Championship). He's played like that four or five times now and will do it 20 more times." – Nick Price, Open champion, 1994 Open champion
"I'll go on doing what I do, winning the Volvo PGAs." – Colin Montgomerie, European No1
"Everybody has thrown up the white flag and surrendered." – Jack Nicklaus, winner of 18 majors
HOW THE 129th OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP UNFOLDED
In perfect conditions for scoring, Woods opened his account with eight pars and then lit the touchpaper for the fireworks that were to follow around the loop. The world No1 had five birdies in seven holes from the 9th and almost eagled the 12th and 14th, where his ball lipped out. He finished the day with a five-under-par round of 67 to lie one stroke behind Els, the world No.3.
"Any time I can par the first eight holes in a major, I won't complain," Woods said while reflecting on his round.
With a round of 66 in which he did not drop a shot, Woods cruised into a lead he would refuse to surrender. At the end of the day, he led fellow American David Toms by three strokes and Sergio Garcia, Loren Roberts and Steve Flesch by four.
This was also to be Nicklaus’s final day in a St Andrews Open. It was almost symbolic that when the 18-time major champion was leaving the 18th green to prolonged and rapturous applause, Woods was stepping on to the 1st tee. As the curtains were coming down one stupendous career, they were going up on another.
With another round of 67 that included seven birdies, Woods stepped closer to a place in history by opening up a six stroke lead over David Duval, the world No2, and Thomas Bjorn. So confident was Woods that he reportedly told his former coach, John Anselmo, "It's a done deal."
While his five-under-par score was impressive, it could have been even better had he not three-putted a trio of greens, or failed to birdie the fifth from ‘gimme’ range.
In only his fourth year as a professional, Woods continued to re-write the record books by turning the 129th Open into a triumphal procession similar to his runaway victory at Pebble Beach. He shot a final round of 69 for a 19-under-par total of 269 – beating Nick Faldo’s record of 270 for St Andrews in 1990.
In front of record crowds of 230,000 at the Home of Golf, Woods joined Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus as the only players to win the four most sought-after titles in the sport – The Open, the US Open, the Masters and the US PGA Championship.
When he then went on to defend successfully his US PGA Championship crown at Valhalla, he was left needing ‘just’ the Masters to hold all four trophies at one time. In April 2001, he did just that for what became known as the ‘Tiger Slam’.