Friday, August 20, 2010

August 20, 2000: The Battle at Valhalla

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Tiger Woods was exactly where everybody expected him to be. After his record-shattering performances earlier that summer at the U.S. and British opens, nobody was surprised to see his name topping the leaderboard of that year's PGA championship with another record-setting score, this time a score of 18 under par. But there was something else up on the leaderboard, something that people didn't expect to see.

Sharing the line with Woods on the leaderboard was the entry "May, -18."

Confusion. Was that a reference to May 18? What happened then? No, it wasn't the month. It was a player. Somebody had tied Woods.

Very few people had heard of Bob May before the 2000 PGA Championship. He had only played in three majors before going to Valhalla that weekend and had won only one event in his career. And yet, there he was at the end of the round on Sunday, standing eye-to-eye with the greatest golfer in the world, the man who was playing better that summer than anybody had ever played before.

And it wasn't just that May was tied with Woods, it was how he got there, making up six shots on Woods over the final three rounds. The playoff, expanded to three holes for the first time that year, was a true David-vs.-Goliath matchup in golf.

While May's story was impressive, so was Tiger's. Challenged in a major championship for the first time, Woods birdied 17 and 18 on Sunday to force the playoff with the surprising May, then birdied the first playoff hole to take charge of the tournament. His putt on the first playoff hole featured one of his most famous moments on the course, as he jogged after the ball as it rolled toward the hole and emphatically pointed towards the cup as it was falling.

The one-shot advantage Woods gained with a birdie on the first playoff hole was all he needed, and he became the first man since 1937 to defend his title in the PGA championship. He also became only the second player to win three professional majors in the same year, and the next April, he would win the Masters to become the first man to hold all four major championships at the same time.

For Bob May, the 2000 PGA was his first and only moment in the golf spotlight. He played in all four majors in 2001 but was nowhere near contention, and he hasn't played in a major since. A back injury further curtailed his career, and he has since lost his Tour card. Now, May plays mostly on the second-tier Nationwide Tour, a humble place for the man who once stood face-to-face with the best in the world and didn't flinch.

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