Tiger’s Tale: Ranking Woods’ 14 Major Victories
Tiger Woods hasn’t won a Major championship in a decade, since his memorable playoff win at the 2008 U.S. Open. But he remains a player not to take lightly, especially in 2018, having returned from years of crippling injuries to return as a force to be reckoned with, just four Major titles short of Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18.
But if Tiger is to remain stuck on 14 for the rest of his career, it’s only fitting to rank those titles, to fully appreciate the Woods Era in golf. Here are his 14 Majors, from the Masters in 1997 to the U.S. Open of 2008, ranked from 14-to-1.
14. 2007 PGA Championship – Double-Double
The second-to-last Major in Tiger’s career, like virtually all the others, contained some eye-popping records and milestones. With the victory, Tiger repeated as the only repeat champion at the PGA Championship since it began using stroke play in 1958. Tiger won the PGA in 1999 and ’00, then again in ’06 and ’07. His second-round 63 tied the record for the lowest single-round score in Major history.
Played at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla., Woods drew away from Ernie Els and Woody Austin in the final round, connecting on a birdie on No. 15 to gain the necessary separation to claim his 13th Major title.
13. 2005 British Open – Tigers and Golden Bears, Oh my!
When Tiger captured his first Masters in 1997, he would win at least one Major every year through 2002, save for one empty season in 1998. But the gap between the ’97 Masters and the ’99 PGA was 10 Major events. That would be the number again in 2005 when Tiger finally snapped his Majors slump with the Masters title, his first Major since 2002. That was also the last time he won two in the same season. He won his second of 2005 at St. Andrews, where he also had won in 2000. But there was an even more significant historical footnote at this tournament.
The 2005 British Open at the Old Course was the last Major ever played by the legendary Jack Nicklaus, whose record 18 Major titles Tiger was relentlessly chasing down. Incredibly, with Tiger’s win at this tournament, he would capture the title at all four of the final appearances by Nicklaus, starting with the 2000 U.S. Open, including the 2000 PGA and 2005 Masters and finally the Open at St. Andrews. Never has the passing of the torch been more perfect.
12. 2002 Masters – Repeat Performance
Only 2002, only 26 years old, and what was left for Wood to conquer? Major tournament record scores? Check. Tiger Slam? Check. But what about back-to-back Jackets? Ah, there’s something lacking from the resume. Woods had repeated at the 1999 and ’00 PGA, but now he chased a milestone only accomplished twice before at Augusta: Jack Nicklaus in 1965-66 and Nick Faldo in 1989-90.
In this tournament, Tigers put the move in “Moving Day,” erasing a four-shot deficit after two rounds with a third-round 66 to tie Retief Goosen for the lead at 11-under. One more time, Tiger’s main competition could not handle the moment, as Goosen shot a 74 on Sunday and Woods was able to cruise to the victory with a 71, winning with a total of 12-under. And here he bested even Jack and Nick: Lowest total score ever by a Masters repeat champion.
11. 2005 Masters – Chip + Lip = Iconic Clip
The title of most famous hole in golf has to go to No. 16 at Augusta. Certainly, it’s the hole that Jack Nicklaus has made into legend with his 40-foot putt in 1975 and then the near-ace in 1986 during the transcendent back-nine charge to give the Golden Bear his improbable sixth Green Jacket at age 46. But Tiger being Tiger, he had to outdo even the great Nicklaus with a chip that lives forever in the imaginations of golf fans and sports marketers everywhere.
No one much remembers that Woods bogeyed the last two holes to fall into his only Masters playoff, where he bested Chris DeMarco. Nope, it’s all about the chip, and the swoosh, and the drop. Just off the green and 20 feet from the cup, Tiger’s chip rolled and rolled, headed straight for the hole before stopping just at the lip and teetering ever-so-slowly — the Nike swoosh on the ball visible to the worldwide TV audience for two fateful seconds — before finally and dramatically dropping in. Tiger’s fist-pumpy reaction told the whole story.
10. 2006 PGA Championship – Luke Couldn’t Force It
The 2006 PGA title for Tiger Woods is notable as the last time Tiger would win back-to-back Majors, having claimed the British Open title before arriving at Medinah. Woods would make 21 birdies over the course of the tournament while scoring just three bogeys. Luke Donald had been tied with Woods after three rounds, but faltered on Sunday like so many Tiger challengers, allowing Tiger to win by five strokes, making him the first player to win all four Majors by a margin of at least five.
That was one of several records and milestones for Tiger in his 12th Major victory: He also became the first PGA champion to win twice on the same course, having taken down Medinah in 1999. It was also the fifth time Tiger finished -18 or better in a Major.
9. 1999 PGA Championship – See Ya, Sergio
Jack had Arnie, and Tom Watson and Gary Player and Lee Trevino. No one had more second-place finishes in Majors than Nicklaus, almost as incredible as the 18 he won. Tiger never had those kind of rivalries. His was a game that the rest of golf was unfamiliar. But once in a while, someone would rise up and take their shot. At the PGA Championship in 1999, that brash challenger was Sergio Garcia.
The lasting image from this tournament is Garcia skipping after his perfectly-played shot from behind a tree during the final round. Maybe this was the guy who would wrest the mantel of fame from young Tiger? Nope. The grizzled 23-year-old put away the precocious 19-year-old, winning by one stroke. Like everyone else over the next decade, Garcia was no challenge to Tiger’s throne.
8. 2002 U.S. Open – (Under) Par For the Course
After the Tiger Slam finished at the Masters in 2001, Tiger has six Majors in his trophy case at age 25, and the full-on assault on Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 Major titles was underway. He pushed his total to eight at Bethpage Black in New York with one of the few less-than-dominant performances in a Major win, but enough to become the youngest eight-time Major winner in history.
“You could say he won this tournament with his B game,” said Padraig Harrington, who tied for eighth. “If he can win like that, he can probably win the next two.”
He didn’t win the next two after getting the first half of a traditional slam, but that didn’t make his U.S. Open victory any less impressive. For the second time in his career – and the only two times in U.S. Open history – Tiger was the only golfer to finish the tournament under par, posting a -3 to win by three strokes over Phil Mickelson, the closest the lefty would get to Tiger in a Major that Woods won.
7. 2006 British Open – One For Dad
Tiger has never been one to shy away from emotion on the course, it’s just usually an expression of fist-pumping triumph, maybe a tinge of anger, but the tears are usually few and far between. The British Open in 2006 was different for a very personal and devastating reason. Tiger’s father, Earl, his biggest fan, his rock, had passed away in May. It clearly affected his performance at the U.S. Open in June, the first time Woods ever missed a cut at a Major.
But at Royal Liverpool, Tiger pulled himself together, capturing back-to-back Opens for the first time in his career. It was a tense 72 holes, with Woods trailing by one shot after the first round and leading by one after Rounds 2 and 3 before three straight birdies late in Round 4 sealed the win. When it ended, Tiger dissolved into tears in the arms of caddie Steve Williams, who said, “This one’s for dad.”
Said Tiger: “To win my first tournament after my dad passed away, and for it to be a major championship, it makes it that much more special.”
6. 2000 British Open – The Career Slam
Before the Tiger Slam, there was the career Grand Slam. The Masters came in 1997, the PGA Championship in 1999 and then the withering performance at the 2000 U.S. Open for three of the four jewels. Now, it was time to treat fabled St. Andrews as mercilessly as Augusta and Pebble Beach. When it was over, Woods was 19-under and a winner by eight strokes, matching the largest British Open margin of victory in 100 years.
And with yet another massive blowout victory, Woods laid waste to a slew of Majors records: Youngest player to win all four Majors, youngest to win four of any kind and youngest to achieve the career Grand Slam (24, by two years); fewest events entered to win all four Majors (93, to Nicklaus’ 121).
5. 2001 Masters – The Tiger Slam
It was so splendid, the sports world needed a new term for it. Sure, a true Grand Slam in golf means winning all four Majors in the same calendar year. But with this second Green Jacket, Woods had done something no other golfer could ever claim: A trophy case with all four majors at the same time. Call it the Tiger Slam – the 2000 U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship, and now the 2001 Masters. Quite a foursome.
As was so often the case when Tiger charged to a Major victory, it was just as much about the competition folding under the pressure. Phil Mickelson and David Duval had their chances on Sunday, even with Tiger shooting 16-under, just two shots off his record score of 1997. But Phil and David faltered on the iconic par-3 16th and Tigers had his personal slam. “To win four in succession, that’s hard to believe,” Woods said. “On top of that, you’ve got to have some luck.”
4. 2000 PGA Championship – Come What May
Amazingly, Tiger only had one true mano-a-mano duel in all his Major victories. Even more amazing, the guy who went truly toe-to-toe with the legend was some guy named Bob May. For one weekend, this no-name had Major game, pushing Tiger through a three-hole playoff in the gathering twilight of Valhalla for one of the most dramatic wins of Tiger’s career.
Perhaps the most iconic image of Tiger’s career came on the first playoff hole, when Tiger drained a 25-foot putt and punctuated the clutch stroke by dancing and prancing his way toward the hole as the ball approached it ahead of him, then pointing at the ball in the cup — like a basketball player praising a sweet assist from a teammate — before scooping it out and stalking off to the next hole. It was a thrilling expression of confidence that made Tiger so compelling to the masses.
3. 2008 U.S. Open – We Knew He’d Make It
If Tiger never wins another Major title (and the jury is back in deliberation after it appeared the case was closed), our lasting image of Woods celebrating a Major title will be at the 2008 U.S. Open, draining the incredible 12-foot put on 18 to force an 18-hole playoff with Rocco Mediate – all while playing on a damaged left knee that would require surgery two days later. Most of Tiger’s Major victories were coronations, a display of sheer power and domination. This win was about guts, savvy and heart.
The image of Woods celebrating that tying birdie putt with caddie Steve Williams while Mediate, in the media tent after finishing his 72 holes at 1-under, muttered “I knew he’d make it,” into an NBC microphone summed up Tiger’s amazing decade perfectly. We all knew Tiger would make it, and we knew he would win. Rocco probably did too, even after taking Woods to a 19th hole in the playoff. It was the 14th Major title of Woods’ career, leaving him four behind Nicklaus.
2. 2000 U.S. Open – The Runaway
The ridiculous performance at the 1997 Masters was so unexpected and so breathtaking, with so much history and symbolism attached, that it didn’t feel like the rout it was – the golf equivalent of Secretariat at the 1973 Belmont Stakes. But when Tiger dismantled Pebble Beach in 2000, you couldn’t do anything but marvel at the complete and utter dominance of what has happening, as Tiger won by an insane 15 strokes to launch the Tiger Slam.
Woods started this historic savaging by shooting 65 in the first round. But it was the second round, played in the kind of windy conditions that usually lead to brutal scores at a U.S. Open, that Woods put on his biggest show, turning back the elements with a 69 while the rest of the field averaged a 76. Now leading by six, the white flags were everywhere, and Tiger kept pouring it on, reaching 12-under with a 67 on Sunday to become the first player to finish double-digits under par at a U.S. Open. Not only was Tiger 12-under, no other golfer shot better than +3.
1. 1997 Masters – Hello World
We knew he was going to be good, great even. Forget the stuff about playing as a small child, appearing on the Dinah Shore show, his father Earl’s grand predictions. All you needed to see was his U.S. Amateur title runs in the mid 1990’s to understand the skill and competitiveness. Still, no one saw that weekend in April, 1997, coming. No one saw a 9-shot lead after three rounds. No one saw the total dismantling of Augusta National, a record 18-under 270, a record 12-shot victory.
What we should not have been surprised about was the other record that glorious Sunday, as the largest TV audience for a Masters round, as 44 million people watched Nick Faldo slip the first of Tiger’s four Green Jackets over his broad shoulders, poised to carry the sport for the next decade. “Hello, World,” Tiger’s first Nike ad proclaimed, and now the world was witness to the greatness. Already, Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 Majors was in peril.