On December 30, Tiger Woods will turn 40 years old, and will do so having gone 879 days since his last victory, finding himself ranked outside the top 400 golfers in the world and ravaged by injuries.
But for the tough road the last couple of years have been in his career, this is as good a time as any to celebrate all Woods’ has done for golf, and the over-arching effects are still unfolding.
Although Tiger won’t blow out the candles for another nine days, but we’ll start the celebration early with a look at his top 20 victories of all time, with #1-10 below.
1, 1997 Masters – It’s the one that started it all. If you were a golf fan or even if you weren’t at the time, you remember a 21-year-old Woods absolutely destroying the fabled course at Augusta, and routing a field of former champions and seasoned veterans by 12 strokes, setting a course record at 18-under. The final round shattered existing records for TV viewership, 44 million people tuned in. What is seldom remembered is that Woods shot a 4-over 40 on the front nine that first day, then went 6-under on the back nine to end Day 1 tied for fourth. By the end of Saturday he was up nine strokes and at 15 under and cruised the rest of the way. Tom Kite was the runner-up, at 6-under.
2. 2013 Cadillac Championship – Ahead of all the Majors except one? Absolutely yes in this case. It was Woods’ first victory in four years, the first since his divorce, and the first since his scandalous turn in the tabloids. The Cadillac had long been Woods’ comfort zone – having won there in 1999-2001, 2005-2007 and 2009, and it showed when he recorded a second-round 61 to get to 13-under through 36 holes, leading by seven. He finished 15-under.
3. 2001 Masters – Never was a single golfer more powerful than Woods at the conclusion of this tournament. He concluded the “Tiger Slam” by shooting 16-under, taking on fierce challenges from David Duval and Phil Mickelson, to hold all four Majors at the same time. Duval tied him at 14-under with a birdie on No. 15, but bogeyed No.16 before Woods birdied 18 to seal the win.
4. 2000 Open Championship – Just like that, at age 24, Tiger Woods had completed a career Grand Slam. And he did it at the most legendary course in the world, the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland. He was two years younger than Jack Nicklaus upon completing his career slam, and it was another of his signature routs, as he fired a 19-under 69 to outpace Ernie Els and Thomas Bjorn by eight strokes.
5. 2000 US Open – It was supposed to be all about Jack, as Nicklaus played his final US Open, or perhaps Vijay Singh, who had won the Masters, with powerful memories also reserved for Payne Stewart, the defending champion who had died tragically eight months prior in a plane crash. But it was Tiger’s tournament, at the tender age of 24, from the outset. He set the pace with an early tee time at 6-under in the first round. As fog affected most of the field, he built his lead to six strokes through 18 and to 10 strokes through 54, the only player under par. A closing round 67 got him to 12-under, with three others tied for second at 3-over. It remains the single-most dominating victory in Major history and made him the first player in the US Open’s 106-year history to finish double-digits under par.
7. 2000 PGA Championship – Woods had whipped the US open field by 15 strokes and The Open Championship crowd by eight, and became the first man in 47 years to win three straight Majors, outdueling Bob May, who had the tournament of his life in defeat. He was paired with Nicklaus, in his final PGA Championship, for the first two rounds, and was in the lead after every round. He held a 1-stroke lead over May to start Sunday, and actually fell two strokes behind four holes in. He caught May on the 8th, the 10th, and finally on the 17th, with both players birdying No. 18 to force a three-hole playoff. Woods birdied the first playoff hole to finish 1-under, winning the event by a stroke.
8. 1999 PGA Championship – For the first time in a long time, the 23-year-old Woods got a challenge from someone younger, remarkably younger. That someone was 19-year-old Sergio Garcia of Spain, who was tied for the lead after one round with a 6-under 66 while Woods was four strokes back. Woods moved into the lead at the end of the third round, tied with Mike Weir at 11-under with Garcia two strokes back. Weir’s final-round 80 left him way out of contention, while Woods looked in total command with a 5-stroke lead over Garcia through 11 holes. He nearly blew it – with a shocking double-bogey on No. 13 that got Garcia within a stroke, but regained his composure despite a bogey on 16 to par the final two holes and take the title.
9. 2002 Masters – Another Major, another major accomplishment. Woods joined the elite club of Jack Nickalus and Nick Faldo as the only men to ever repeat as champions of the Masters, never threatened on Sunday as he finished 12-under. He was tied with Retief Goosen through 54 holes, but the South African had two bogeys in the first four holes to drop four strokes back and never got within three until the 18th.
10. 2005 Masters – After winning seven Majors in a span of four seasons, Woods had zero between the Open Championship of 2002 and the PGA Championship of 2004, a span of 10 failures to win that for any other player wouldn’t even be an issue, but for the Greatest was a certified slump. It looked like it would 11 straight non-wins when Woods struggled to a 2-over 74 on Thursday, seven strokes behind unexpected leader Chris DiMarco, and trailed by four strokes when play was suspended by fog on Saturday. It wasn’t the last round yet, but Woods came out gunning on Sunday with four straight birdies on the back nine to take the lead through 54 holes. In all he tallied seven straight birdies while DiMarco suffered his own 74 to drop three strokes off the pace. The lead was still three through nine holes, but DiMarco rallied with three birdies while Woods suffered three bogeys, resulting in a tie at 12-under. The playoff was sudden death and DiMarco parred his, then watched Woods sink a 15-foot birdie to win the title.