It’s easy now, two decades down the line, to believe the inevitability of Tiger Woods.
All the great and grand things said about him and projected onto his record, most of them have come to pass. The 82 PGA Tour wins. The 15 major championships.
It was still unfolding in July 2000 when Woods showed up at the Old Course in St. Andrews, having yet to win a Claret Jug, still thin beneath his oversized shirts, his 24-year old face still more like a kid’s than a grown man’s.
The sense of inevitability that became as familiar as Woods’ stinger or his Sunday red came with him to the Old Course in the first summer of a new millennium. One month earlier, Woods had destroyed Pebble Beach and the competition, winning the U.S. Open by an extraordinary 15 strokes.
Woods developed an appreciation of history as a youngster and coming to St. Andrews with its old-world romance was the perfect setting for what would be a monumental step in his career.
The U.S. Open at Pebble Beach was the start of Woods’ Tiger Slam and his victory in the 2000 Open Championship would be the third in a stretch that included five wins in six major championship starts, interrupted only by a fifth-place finish in the 2000 Masters.
Woods developed an appreciation of history as a youngster and coming to St. Andrews with its old-world romance was the perfect setting for what would be a monumental step in his career. The Old Course, with its humps, bumps and blind shots, is where the masters have won through the years.
Jones, Snead, Nicklaus, Ballesteros and Faldo had won Opens at the Old Course beneath the shadow of the R&A clubhouse and Woods added his name to the list with a performance that was both dominating and revealing, reinforcing his talent and his understanding of how the game is played.
“There was definitely no dropoff in Tiger’s performance at St. Andrews,” Steve Williams, his caddie at the time, said in a recent email. “As an overall performance he played better at St. Andrews than at Pebble Beach. His confidence was at an all-time high. The opportunity to play at St. Andrews sparked what I consider his best 72-hole performance.”
Woods used his immense power while embracing the strategy and challenge of links golf, using the ground to his advantage and resisting at times the temptation to force the issue with his driver.
As impressive as Woods’ performance was on paper – he shot 67-66-67-69 to finish at 19-under par and win by eight strokes – he demonstrated his total control by playing 72 holes on the Old Course and never finding any of the 112 bunkers scattered across the ancient property. It was both meticulous and masterful, deconstructing the Old Course the way a chess master might.
“Tiger was driving the ball as well as he ever had,” Williams said. “Unlike his win at Hoylake (in 2006) where he laid up from every bunker, Tiger played aggressive and took on many of the bunkers.
“At St. Andrews … often the bunkers are not visible. Both the player and caddie have to know exactly where they are and where to aim. Having said that, given the uncertainty of the bounce, it was an incredible effort to avoid all the bunkers.”
Ernie Els led after the first round, opening with a 66, but the rest of the championship belonged to Woods. With American television viewers seeing the Open Championship in high definition for the first time, Woods built a three-stroke lead after two rounds and by Saturday, he was six clear of David Duval, the second-ranked player in the world, and Thomas Bjørn.
Woods went 63 holes without a bogey at the Old Course until he three-putted the second green on Saturday.
“There is no doubt we’re playing for second place,” Bjørn said after the third round.
Bjørn was right.
Woods’ victory made him the youngest player (by two years) to complete the career Grand Slam, joining Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus in the game’s most exclusive club. His 19-under-par total also gave Woods the all-time scoring record in three of the four major championships.
“He’s the best who ever played and he’s 24,” Mark Calcavecchia said in St. Andrews that year.
Woods would win again at the Old Course in 2005, building his personal history in the game’s most revered spot.
In a brief television interview after his 2000 victory, Woods spoke about the importance of winning in St. Andrews.
“This is the home of golf, where you always want to win,” he said. “I said before the U.S. Open, if you want to win on the two ultimate venues it would be Pebble Beach and St. Andrews. I’ve been very fortunate to win them both in the same year.”
Guided by history and demonstrating a divine command of a capricious game, Woods made a place for himself at the Old Course.
“The opportunity to complete the Grand Slam at St. Andrews inspired Tiger,” Williams said. “He loves the course and all the history of St. Andrews. His preparation was very thorough, his form was impressive. It had the making of an incredible week and, as he has done so often with what was on the line, it brought the best out of him.”
Top: Tiger Woods’ 2000 Open Championship victory was the result of “an incredible effort,” caddie Steve Williams said. Photo: Harry How, Allsport via Getty Images
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