Athletes often talk about the importance of being “in the zone”. The perfect state of mind matched with supreme form. It’s the dream.
Rarely has a sportsman found their groove in such a perfect way as Tiger Woods did at Pebble Beach in 2000. It was a pulsating performance that has since been talked about in almost evangelical terms, and with the US Open taking centre stage this week that imperious display nearly 20 years ago deserves another look.
Woods won the tournament by a record-smashing 15 strokes, simply unheard of in major competition. The American dominated a strong field which left runners-up Ernie Els and Miguel Angel Jimenez not so much trailing in his wake, but tiny blips in the distance. The margin of victory was staggering as Woods raised the bar to new unprecedented levels, his overall gameplay and shot selection was nigh-on perfect, as were his laser-focus and booming yet pinpoint drives.
It’s remarkable to think that on the eve of the 100th US Open Woods confessed to swing coach Butch Harmon that he wasn’t happy with his putting. He went on to win the tournament wire-to-wire, sinking putts left, right, and centre.
After his first round Woods topped the leaderboard by a single shot, a margin he extended to six when the curtain drew on day two. Come the end of round three he has propelled his advantage to double figures (10) - despite a triple-bogey-7 on the third hole - which he enlarged to a simply staggering 15 shot winning margin after he closed with bogey-free 67.
It remains the most dominant display in any major championship. A pursuit of perfection that broke a raft of records including the largest margin of victory, and largest lead after 36, and 54 holes.
Woods was at the peak of his powers and the following month he conjured up another imperious major triumph, this time at The Open by a titanic eight shots with each round in the 60s. He then successfully defended the PGA Championship he’d won in 1999, but needed a play-off to fend off Bob May. The success meant that Woods became the first player to win three majors in a year since Ben Hogan in 1953.
However, he wasn’t finished there.
In April 2001, Woods slipped on his second Green Jacket and grabbed ownership of all four majors simultaneously. A simply stunning feat, now famously known as the ‘Tiger Slam’, that hadn’t been achieved since Bobby Jones in 1930.
Woods went on to retain the Masters and regain the US Open in 2002. A couple of blank years followed, then from 2005 to 2008 he triumphed in six of the 14 major events he participated in. There was the infamous 11-year drought up until THAT Masters win a couple of months ago at Augusta, a victory drenched in a combination of relief and jubilation, and one that propelled Woods’ overall major tally to 15, three shy of a certain Jack Nicklaus.
On Thursday, Woods returns to the beautifully wicked Pebble Beach as one of the top cluster of names in the frame to go all the way. Whatever happens this week Woods’ dazzlingly dominant display 19 years ago will forever be stamped in history as one of the most superhuman sports feats ever, and one golf may never see again.