Although Tiger Woods’ infidelity engendered severe obloquy in 2009, he still attracts large crowds of fervent supporters when he steps onto the golf course. Since that scandal, though, he has not had the mammoth success that he had prior to 2009. In those years, Tiger’s place at the top of the golf world was unassailable. He hit the ball as hard as anybody, his iron-play was superb, and his short game never failed him in tough moments. From 1997-2008, Tiger won 14 Major Championships and 15 World Golf Championships. His numerous endorsements throughout that period made him one of the richest athletes in the world. Indeed, despite any off-the-course controversy, Tiger Woods’ place in the canon of American sports is secure.
His dominance is also noteworthy for its social significance. Americans don’t need to be told that the civil rights movement happened barely fifty years ago, and the story of Jackie Robinson breaking the colour barrier has become a kind of American meta-narrative, a deeply embedded story in the country’s collective social fabric. However, Tiger Woods ascended to the top of a sport that had featured very little racial diversity for many years. As a half-black, half-Thai golfer, Woods has undoubtedly increased golf’s popularity across racial lines, effacing any residual racial bigotry in the sport.
This list celebrates Tiger Woods’ best tournament performances. Since he has won almost 80 PGA tour events, narrowing the list down to ten tournaments is a tough task. This list considers both the importance of the tournament and the brilliance of Tiger’s performance, giving more weight to the former. Tiger’s winnings for each tournament on this list have been posted.
10. 2000 Bell Canadian Open – Tournament Winnings: $594,000
A victory at the 2000 Bell Canadian Open does not seem like a top-10 type of victory, especially for someone like Tiger Woods. However, Tiger barely pulled off this win, as he battled Grant Waite up to the last hole of the tournament, hitting one of the toughest shots of his entire career on the 72nd hole—a shot that, if he had not hit it perfectly, could have derailed his entire tournament. Finding himself in a fairway bunker off the tee, Tiger hit a 6-iron from the sand, carried the ball over water, and stuck the shot on the fringe of the green. Only a luminous talent like Tiger could have had the guts to even attempt a shot like that.
9. 2000 WGC-NEC Invitational – Tournament Winnings: $1 million
Firestone Country Club—one of Tiger’s favourite courses to play—hosted the 2000 WGC-NEC Invitational. Tiger did not disappoint that weekend, as he squashed the competition with an 11-stroke victory, finishing at -21 after Sunday’s round. Not only was his margin of victory impressive at the time, but Tiger also set the tournament record for aggregate score with 259 shots. After climbing to the top of the leaderboards after his first round, Tiger never looked back, leading the tournament from start to finish.
8. 2002 Masters – Tournament Winnings: $1,008,000
In 2002, Tiger Woods became the third player to successfully defend a Masters title—the other two are Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus—when he finished -12 and won by three strokes. His victory marked his third Masters title, but it came on a new-look Augusta, as course officials lengthened the course by 285 yards before the 2002 tournament. What also marks this tournament in the pantheon of Tiger’s victories is the level of talent at the top of the final leaderboard. Indeed, Retief Goosen, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia and Vijay Singh all finished in the top 10.
7. 2000 British Open Championship – Tournament Winnings: $759,150
Played at historic St. Andrews, the 2000 British Open secured Tiger’s place among the best golfers of all time. Still young, Tiger won the tournament by 8 strokes, completing the “career grand slam,” a feat that few golfers have accomplished. Going into the weekend, David Toms was within striking distance, but over the weekend, Tiger asserted his pre-eminence with two dominant performances to close out the tournament.
6. 2005 Masters – Tournament Winnings: $1,260,000
Golf is rarely a sport that galvanizes an audience into a frenzy. Add Tiger Woods to the mix, however, and triumphant cheering seems possible at any moment. But no shot has elicited a roar from a crowd quite like Tiger’s shot on the 16th hole of Augusta back at the 2005 Masters. Facing stiff competition from Chris DiMarco in the final round, Tiger missed the green on the hole only to chip in for birdie. He had to account for a massive slope on the green, so he aimed the shot well wide of the hole. As the ball rolled closer and closer to the hole, the tension mounted. Mercilessly teasing the audience, the ball stopped rolling right at the edge of the hole, but as everyone let out a collective sigh of disappointment, the ball did the unthinkable and dropped in the hole. Tiger later beat DiMarco in a playoff.
5. 2002 US Open – Tournament Winnings: $1 million
After winning the Masters in 2002, Tiger won the 2002 US Open in convincing fashion. Bethpage Black, the site of the tournament, tested the world’s best players that weekend, and some were left confounded. Indeed, what makes this tournament one of Tiger’s best is that he was the only player to finish under par. Phil Mickelson pushed Tiger all weekend, but Lefty finished at even par and had to watch Tiger hoist another trophy.
4. 2006 PGA Tour Championship – Tournament Winnings: $1,224,000
Anyone who knows anything about Tiger Woods knows that Tiger had a special and deep relationship with his father, Earl Woods. Tragically, in 2006, Earl Woods passed away, and Tiger lost the supporter who probably bolstered him the most in his early years. Tiger honoured his father with a 5-stroke victory at the 2006 PGA Championship. Tiger’s plaintive emotions were visible when he sealed the victory on the 72nd hole; he began to cry and his caddie Steve Williams had to help him off the green.
3. 2008 U.S. Open – Tournament Winnings: $1,350,000
Tiger’s last Major victory is perhaps his greatest feat of physical determination. He battled all weekend, and before the final round, Tiger’s performance did not look like vintage Tiger. In the final round, he managed to pull off a dramatic victory, beating a second-place Rocco Mediate. After the tournament, Tiger revealed that his knee was severely injured, and he underwent surgery soon after. Not only did he beat the field—he beat the field on one leg.
2. 1997 Masters – Tournament Winnings: $486,000
Tiger’s first Major deserves a place on this list for several reasons. As mentioned, Tiger’s emergence into the golf scene is freighted with social significance. Located in Georgia, Augusta is a golf course that has a deplorable history of racial discrimination, as “racial others” were barred from playing the course for many years. Tiger’s breakthrough win was an important step for the game of golf, a step away from the sport’s history of racial bigotry. Tiger also won the tournament by 12 strokes, running away from the competition, and dominating all of Augusta’s obstacles and hazards. His performance likely incited the efforts by course officials to lengthen Augusta and make it tougher.
1. 2000 U.S. Open – Tournament Winnings: $800,000
Tiger’s performance at the 2000 US Open, which was held at Pebble Beach, needs no introduction for golf fans. He won by 15 strokes, a staggering margin of victory for a Major. The whole weekend Tiger displayed his combination of formidable power and surgeon-like precision on a course that swallowed his competition. His most memorable shot came on one of Pebble Beach’s tough par-5s, as he hit a blind second shot out of the rough, carried it above a steep slope, and hit the green despite a fierce crosswind. Those were the days…