Correction: There were two reasons—his sense of the moment and his talent, which allows him to execute shots that lesser players wouldn't try. With the strength he developed in thousands of hours in the weight room, Woods powered his four-iron through the rough, drilling his ball under the branches. The shot then rose, cleared the greenside bunker and landed like a butterfly, checking up on a slippery downslope fifteen feet past the cup. "No other player on the face of the earth is capable of that," said David Feherty on CBS. "Now I've got to have grandchildren, so I can tell them about that shot."
Said winner Woods, "I absolutely roasted that four-iron."
4 HOLE-OUT AT PEBBLE
Final round, 2000 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Pebble Beach, California
Trailing Matt Gogel by seven shots with seven holes to play, Woods seemed to be out of contention on one of his favorite courses. He had won five tournaments in a row, but his streak was dying with Sunday's last light on a rainy weekend on the Monterey Peninsula. A late charge got him within four strokes as he played the par-four fifteenth, where his ninety-seven-yard wedge shot dropped from gray sky, four feet to the right of the flag, and spun into the cup for an eagle deuce. No dunk by Michael Jordan ever drew a happier roar. Tiger punched the air in celebration, then turned to a TV camera and said, "I'm back in it!"
The shot ignited the biggest comeback of his career. He nearly eagled the next hole as well—his approach at sixteen bit the green an inch short of the hole and stopped two feet past for a gimme birdie. After tapping in at eighteen for a two-shot win over Gogel and Vijay Singh, Woods had won six straight Tour events, the most since Hogan's six-win streak in 1948.
At a press conference that evening, a reporter asked Gogel if he thought Tiger had been destined to win. "I don't know about destiny," Gogel said. "He's just damned good." Woods, reflecting on his comeback and the eagle that triggered it, said, "This ranks right up there."
5 DO-OR-DIE PUTT AT VALHALLA
Final round, 2000 PGA Championship, Valhalla Golf Club, Louisville, Kentucky
He had won the 2000 U.S. and British Opens by a mile, begging the perennial question: Who can step up and challenge Tiger?The unlikely answer was Bob May, a journeyman pro with no discernible abs and no PGA Tour titles to his credit. But the contenders were hardly strangers. May, seven years older, had ruled junior golf in Southern California fifteen years earlier, when Tiger was merely a gifted cub. Now Woods was golf's dominant figure, while May was the nobody, expected to fold. He did the opposite, taking a final-round lead at the second hole and shooting sixty-six that Sunday—with a putt at eighteen that proved he had a champion's heart.
The two were tied as they played the 542-yard par-five final hole. But Woods had the upper hand: May had missed a short putt three holes earlier, then watched Tiger crush a 335-yard drive at seventeen and birdie the hole to catch him. At eighteen, May's putt was eighteen feet; Woods's was six. But May curled in his double-breaking snake, which dripped into the cup on its last revolution. Now, instead of putting to win, Woods faced a cruelly delicate downhill six-footer to stay alive. This was true sudden death: one excruciating putt to force a play-off. He started it rolling, then watched it, willing the ball toward the cup . . . and let out a yell as it caught the left edge and fell in.
What was he thinking?"That this is one of the greatest duels ever," Tiger said after beating May in a three-hole play-off to win his third major of the year. On the first play-off hole he sank a twenty-five-footer for birdie, running after it and pointing at the cup. Newspapers would call that shot the key to his triumph, but the pressure there was far less than on the do-or-die six-footer that made the play-off happen.
"Hats off to Bob," said Woods when it was over. "He played his heart out." So did the winner.
6 EARSPLITTING ACE AT PHOENIX
Third round, 1997 Phoenix Open, TPC of Scottsdale, Scottsdale, Arizona
Woods was still a "twenty-one-year-old sensation," the '96 Rookie of the Year, and he wouldn't even win the tournament, but what happened on the craziest hole of the Tour's most raucous tournament showed his star power. A beery throng of 25,000 surrounded the 155-yard sixteenth that Saturday, thirsty for Tiger's appearance on the tee. The scene was so wild that Woods told his then caddie, Fluff Cowan, that he was tempted to jog to the tee like a football star, running through a tunnel of high-fiving fans. For an instant the frat party hushed as Tiger swung his nine-iron. The ball hopped twice and found the hole. An ace!
It was said that the crowd's sonic boom could be heard in downtown Phoenix. "I didn't know who it was," said eventual winner Steve Jones, "but I knew it was something big." Omar Uresti, Woods's playing partner, called it the loudest sound that he'd ever heard. Tiger danced and fist-pumped in a blizzard of beer cups.
"People were going crazy," he said. "It was ridiculous how loud it was." The moment demonstrated the young Tiger's rock-star allure, setting off the biggest noise in golf history.
7 GRAND BLAST AT POIPU
Final round, 1997 Grand Slam of Golf, Poipu Bay Golf Course, Kauai, Hawaii
Woods trailed Ernie Els by three in the final round of the season-ending Slam when he hit his second shot into a greenside bunker at the 501-yard par-four sixteenth. The ball found an almost comically bad lie: buried in wet sand on a sharp downslope. "I was a dead man," he wrote in How I Play Golf. "Or was I?" Knowing that bogey would kill his chances altogether, Woods spotted a steep, grassy embankment near the bunker. If he could get the ball there, it might pop straight up, then release onto the green: "It was a 100-1 shot, but I had to try it. I didn't swing the club back so much as lift it straight in the air, then brought it down into the sand as though I were swinging an ax." On the downswing, he shut his eyes.