One day he was duelling modern golfing lions like David Duval and Phil Mickelson for a unique place in the game’s history. The next he was taking on past sporting gods such as Muhammad Ali and Joe DiMaggio for a unique place in the annals of all sport.
One unforgettable Sunday afternoon in Augusta and Tiger Woods slipped into a green jacket that symbolised his unquestioned position as the premier sportsman of his generation.
One memorable Monday all over the world and every columnist worth his or her salt rushed into print to begin a more hotly contested debate. Well, was it? Did winning the Masters to complete a clean sweep of all four Major Championships constitute the most breathtaking sporting feat the globe has yet seen?
Golfers are magnanimous by nature so let’s just say that those of us in Woods’s corner believe we have a heck of a case. Heavens, we have masses of evidence. Let’s start with witness number one, the previously incomparable Jack Nicklaus.
Few people argue that until Woods came along Nicklaus was the greatest golfer who ever lived. But how many consecutive Majors did Nicklaus ever manage to win? That’s right, not four, not even three, but two.
Witness number two is Colin Montgomerie. Anybody dispute that Montgomerie is up there with the great European golfers of all time? Thought not. But Montgomerie is still waiting to win any Major Championship, let alone Majors consecutively.
The example of Montgomerie, therefore, tells us how hard it is to win just one of these things, and Nicklaus the difficulty of winning
Then again, golfers know all this don’t they? That is why up to three years ago it was thought of as next to impossible for all four to end up in the same household.
Each year at the Masters the same question was posed to the winner of the green jacket. Do you think you can win the Grand Slam? Every April the champion would allow himself a wry chuckle, attempt a joke along the lines of ‘Well, no-one else can this year,’ and accept it was hardly within the bounds of comprehension, let alone their ability.
Now all right, Woods’s feat might not be a Grand Slam in the very purest sense of the term but arguing over that is, as Nicklaus pointed out, completely irrelevant.
“I don’t care what you call it but what I call it is by far the most remarkable golfing feat we have ever seen,” the great man said.
What made Woods’s Slam so pleasurable to so many was the manner of it, and the places he won. First, the 100th US Open Championship at America’s most evocative course, Pebble Beach, the victory margin the small matter of 15 strokes.
Next he became the youngest player to complete the career Grand Slam, winning the Open Championship at St Andrews of all places, by eight shots. Then the US PGA Championship after a thrilling last day shootout with Bob May.
So to Augusta National. Yes, the same Augusta National that Bobby Jones built; the Bobby Jones who won the Grand Slam as it was constituted in 1930 (the Amateur and Open Championships of Great Britain and America). Do you think this boy has good timing?
It proved one amazing week. It even lived up to the incredible hype. From Monday at 8am the patrons came, queuing to buy their souvenirs, as if they instinctively knew that this was going to be the tournament of tournaments.
From the moment Woods began 70-66 to mirror exactly his scores when he won by 12 in 1997 there was the feeling that this result was somehow pre-ordained.
Such a thought perhaps does less than justice to Woods’s incredible desire and the hundreds of hours of practice he puts in to be perfect in each department of the game.
But when you see his name rise up the leaderboard tournaments take on a fateful air; you can almost sense the feeling of helplessness in the opposition, the feeling that as Woods moves freely through the gears there is nothing they can do.
A 68 in the third round and now Woods was one stroke ahead. Thomas Björn and Lee Westwood are two of a select group of players who know what it feels like to reel Woods in when he is leading with a round to play. So, too, does Mickelson, who just happened to be his partner on the last day.
In Major Championships, however, Woods made it a perfect six for six, demonstrating again his unerring ability to deliver when it matters most. The following morning the television networks summed up the mood of the nation when they christened it Tiger Woods Day. It was the only appropriate honour for a man who had transcended his chosen game with a feat that, at the very least, puts him up there with the other sporting immortals on Mt Olympus.
This article has been reproduced from The 14th Edition of The European Tour Yearbook which can be purchased at a special price direct via the Order Form.