Monday, February 7, 2011

February 7, 2000: Seven down, seven to play

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. - OK, this was getting ridiculous. It's easy to concede that Tiger Woods was the best golfer in the world. In fact, it was by this point a pretty lazy argument to make. Even the question of whether he was the best golfer of all time was getting absurd - after five straight victories, most of them in dominating fashion, even those arguments were starting to sound silly. But this - this was getting absurd.

As Woods teed off on the 12th hole in the final round of the 2000 Pebble Beach Pro-Am, he was seven shots behind tour rookie Matt Gogel. After he rolled in his final putt on the 18th green, he was the victor by two shots, a stunning turnaround that enabled Woods claim to his sixth straight victory. Three birdies and an eagle helped Woods gain back five shots from Gogel, while Gogel gave the rest back himself with four bogies coming in.

But it wasn't just Woods' remarkable back nine that was the story here. Those nine holes - or rather, those seven holes if you want to be specific - marked the beginning of a season where Tiger Woods played better than anybody had ever played before. Most tournaments seemed like they were over the moment he applied to play in them. Great players, even major-quality players, wilted under the pressure of merely playing with him. And as Woods dominated golf like no one ever before him, television ratings for the sport shot through the roof, and Woods became one of the most famous athletes in the world.

Woods' streak of consecutive tournament wins stopped at six, and he somewhat surprisingly didn't win the Masters in 2000. But from then on, he was unstoppable. His record-shattering performance at that year's U.S. Open - coincidentally, back at Pebble Beach - was hailed by many as the greatest performance in golf history, though his annihilation of the field at the British Open the next month rivaled that for dominance. He won the PGA with another record-setting score, even if he needed a playoff to do it.

In all, Woods won 10 events in 2000, the peak of a three-year run in which he won 23 events and firmly established himself as the greatest golfer of his generation. But he was perhaps never better than on the back nine at Pebble Beach, where he made a seven-shot deficit disappear into thin air.

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