He walked -- no, sauntered -- off the 18th green, an effervescent smile across his face as the mighty Pacific framed the moment in history for all to remember. His brow drenched with perspiration, Tiger Woods conveyed the illusion that he had sweated out this first U.S. Open victory, that it was somehow always in doubt. He waved to the vociferous, adoring crowd, hugged friends and family members, accepted congratulations and then -- keep your eye on him now -- liberated an unprovoked sigh of relief. His body language may have suggested a hard-fought triumph, but the final scoreboard, with one red "12" mocking all of the black, single-digit numbers below it, signified otherwise.
That Tiger Woods won the 2000 United States Open championship by 15 strokes at famed Pebble Beach tells us all we need to know about his standing as a golfer at the turn of the century. But it hardly begins to describe the story of a man who declared "Hello, world," to the masses upon turning professional less than four years earlier, a man whose father once stated his impact on the planet would transcend golf. How did he become this generation's greatest player by age 24? Why did he treat an insurmountable lead like he still had something to prove? What was the secret to his success?
|Ten Years of Tiger|
|This week marks the 10-year anniversary of Tiger Woods' professional debut. ESPN.com looks back on the last decade of his life -- and what the future might hold -- in this five-part series.|
It takes a special player -- heck, a special person -- to record one of the most outsized victories in the history of golf and punctuate it with an equally hefty understatement. And yet there was Woods, the grand champion and emerging megastar, plopping down in front of hundreds of waiting journalists. Armed with pens and notebooks, cameras constantly flashing, the zealous throng anticipated uncovering the deep, dark secret of how a player could dominate in such a fashion, where his transcendent skill came from, whether it could be harnessed. Perhaps Woods had unearthed the mysteries of Jones, the theories of Hogan, the passion of Nicklaus. He would bare his soul to the press, disclose everything it wanted to know. The room hushed. And then he spoke: "Well, I guess I won."
There would be no secrets revealed, no journeys into the soul of Tiger Woods on this day, although it's possible his statement, in its brevity, contained a glimpse of the coveted answers. The unwillingness to divulge all and the dedication to remain guarded under such severe off-course inquisition parallel his steadfast demeanor in tournament competition. Always give 'em everything you have. Always leave 'em wanting more.
It is a lesson Woods learned early in his career and often during the 2000 campaign. Before his historic conquest at Pebble Beach, he had won the Mercedes Championships, the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, the Bay Hill Invitational and the Memorial Tournament. Most professional golfers -- elite-level talents, even -- could have closed up shop following such a six-month span and happily called it a career. Which is why an examination of the remainder of Woods' season provides a window into his mysterious machinations.
Armed with the knowledge that his U.S. Open victory could be the turning point in an already successful crusade, Woods soldiered onward into the annals of history. One month after lapping the field at Pebble, he won the British Open at St. Andrews' renowned Old Course by eight strokes, the greatest margin of victory since John H. Taylor achieved the same mark 87 years earlier. In doing so, he became -- hold the applause, please -- the fifth (and youngest) golfer to win the career Grand Slam, the first player since Ben Hogan in 1953 to hold three major tournament titles at the same time and the all-time low scorer in relation to par at the world's oldest golf tournament.
Following the win, he posed for photographs with the silver claret jug, the trophy's sparkle and gleam a distant second to those of its new owner's smile. Kissed Mom. Hugged Dad. And then, once again, it was time for Woods to explain himself, to face the awaiting assemblage and figuratively hold the jug aloft, scrutinize his reflection and surrender a self-righteous interpretation of the preceding four days' events. Was he satisfied with the victory? Had he accomplished all of his goals? Was this as good as he'll ever be? To that final query, Woods sat up, looked straight ahead and proffered this reply: "No, no, no, no. Definitely not." Despite uttering so little, Tiger revealed so much.
The PGA Championship was next up on his agenda and it too became another notch in his 3-iron, his third consecutive major championship. Hardly a four-day coronation, the tournament saw Woods taken to a playoff by journeyman pro Bob May before clinching a title, a direct contrast to his two previous triumphs. In many ways, this victory was more formidable than his dominating efforts. That champion had proved he could cruise to the winner's circle when there were no other competitors within a par-5 of him on the leaderboard, but this one feasted on a strict diet of drama and adrenaline. Professional golf has no rarer or more dangerous competitor than the versatile champion.
Woods' success persisted as he parlayed the PGA victory into subsequent conquests at the NEC Invitational and Canadian Open. His final season tally compares favorably with the greatest one-year records the game has ever known: 20 PGA Tour starts, nine wins, 17 top-10 finishes, 20 top 25s and $9,188,321 in total earnings. Perhaps the only accomplishment Woods failed to achieve was becoming the sole member of golf's most exclusive establishment -- the 10-and-10 club. Ten victories. Ten million dollars. Tiger often intimated the latter was a season-long goal, proving even the most superior contestant occasionally fails to achieve an objective.
Before the year-end Tour Championship, in which he would finish second to Phil Mickelson, Woods was asked to summarize his 2000 campaign in one word. Never content to settle, he bargained for two. When granted permission, he thought about it for a split-second, flashed that near-$10 million smile and said, "Not bad."
Once again, by revealing almost nothing, the man revealed absolutely everything that makes him Tiger Woods, and makes Tiger Woods the most compelling figure in the history of golf.
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com