Eldrick T. Woods didn't invent the earthshaking golf shot. He just perfected it. There were great shots long before Woods was born—Gene Sarazen's double eagle at Augusta in 1935, Ben Hogan's pure one-iron at Merion in 1950 and every swing Sam Snead ever made. But those shots entered lore as still frames, black-and-white pictures in a memory book. Modern golf history, which begins with Arnold Palmer, looks fresher: Arnie slashing a six-iron out of the gunch at Royal Birkdale; Tom Watson doing a hop, skip and jump as his Pebble Beach chip beats Jack Nicklaus; and Nicklaus, four years later, stalking that putt at Augusta's seventeenth, the putt that won the forty-six-year-old Golden Bear his sixth green jacket. But even those more recent moments belong to an earlier time, a cardigan-sweater age when golf was a minor sport.
The Tiger Woods era is bigger, faster and a whole lot louder. When Woods stiffs a six from 220 yards out, crowds erupt at rock-concert levels. His best shots are seen and heard live around the world. They spur watercooler arguments: Was yesterday's miracle his best shot ever?Not even Nicklaus made so many memories. Aside from that Augusta putt and his one-iron off the flagstick at Pebble Beach's seventeenth, how many of Jack's top shots can you name?
Obviously, Jack had plenty. But in this modern media age, Woods's exploits enter legend instantly. They kick off newscasts—not just sports reports—and are replayed on SportsCenter and a thousand other shows in head-banging rotation, a fast-morphing highlight reel starring the world's number-one sports star.
You can track his progress by them. From two-year-old Tiger's first blip of publicity on the old Mike Douglas Show to the impossible four-iron he hit at this year's Buick Invitational, Woods has punctuated his career with shots of genius. Selecting the very best was as difficult as choosing Cher's loudest outfits. But after months of research, argument and arm-twisting we whittled down the list to these ten. Call them Tiger's greatest hits.
1 THREE-IRON AT HAZELTINE
Second round, 2002 PGA Championship, Hazeltine National Golf Club, Chaska, Minnesota
Finishing a rain-shortened second round on Saturday morning, Woods was close to the pace set by Fred Funk and Jim Furyk. In soggy weather, with 35 m.p.h. winds gusting in his face, Tiger needed anything but a next-to-impossible shot as he played the 457-yard eighteenth at Hazeltine. But after pulling his drive into a fairway bunker, that's what he faced: a 202-yard carry to a back-right pin, with tall trees blocking the way. The wind rippled his shirt as Woods studied his lie. The ball was below his feet, only three feet shy of the bunker's steep lip. With an awkward stance, he swung a three-iron. The ball cleared the lip by inches and began tracking toward the flag. When it landed six feet from the hole, early-bird fans packing the grandstand went nuts. Woods made the putt to complete a second-round sixty-nine that put him two shots behind Funk.
In the players' locker room, other pros were watching on television. As Woods's approach found the eighteenth green, many of them laughed out loud. "There's no man ever in the world who could hit that shot," said Jeff Sluman.
Woods's caddie, Steve Williams, said the shot was harder than Tiger's famed six-iron at the Bell Canadian Open (below), which "doesn't even touch this one. This was the single greatest shot I've ever seen him hit." Ernie Els shook his head and pronounced the shot "un-believable."
"With the conditions the way they were and the lie I had," said Woods, "it was one of my best shots ever. I hit it so flush, it was scary." He would falter on Sunday before roaring back to close the PGA with four straight birdies, finishing a shot behind Rich Beem. But all day Saturday, fans were buzzing about Tiger's latest miracle.
2 SIX-IRON SAND SHOT AT THE CANADIAN
Final round, 2000 Bell Canadian Open, Glen Abbey Golf Club, Oakville, Canada
Leading Grant Waite by a shot as they played the final hole, a 508-yard par five, Woods blocked his drive into a fairway bunker. After Waite hit a 223-yard approach to the fat part of the green, he expected Tiger to aim for the same spot. With water guarding the green and the pin tucked behind another bunker, going for the flag would be courting disaster. But Woods sensed victory. He settled over the ball and turned up the focus that other players call his greatest asset. "When pressure is at its peak, your concentration level is at its highest," he would say later. "It builds to a crescendo."
His six-iron soared 218 yards, landed near the flag and stopped eighteen feet past. From there he got down in two to match Waite's birdie. His ninth victory of 2000 gave Woods a triple crown: the national titles of the U.S., Great Britain and Canada.
"To have the mind-set, the poise, the calmness to make that swing shows you he's got such an advantage on the rest of us," Waite marveled. "He is an incredible man who's played golf like nobody in the universe has ever played."
3 "ROASTED" APPROACH AT THE BUICK
Final round, 2003 Buick Invitational, Torrey Pines South, La Jolla, California
With a four-shot lead on Sunday, Woods could have tiptoed through the back nine for an easy victory in his return from off-season knee surgery. Instead he chose the heroic play at the fifteenth, a 477-yard par four. After pushing his drive into gnarly rough, he found himself with 203 yards to the green, where the flag was tucked just past the lip of a bunker. Worse than the distance were the low-hanging tree branches blocking his way. Going for the pin seemed out of the question. It would be the sort of gamble that tempts Phil Mickelson into trouble, and there was no reason for Tiger to risk making a big number when he had four shots on the field.