Tiger is “better than most” at the 2001 PLAYERS Championship
Considered by many to be golf’s fifth major championship, THE PLAYERS Championship (yes, they capitalize it) was the biggest title that Tiger Woods hadn’t yet won when he came to TPC Sawgrass in 2001. First playing this championship in 1997 two weeks before his win for the ages at Augusta, Tiger had finished 31st. Respectable but certainly not up to Tiger standards. He didn’t find much success the following year either with a T-35 but just did crack the top 10 in 1999. He came close to winning in 2000 but just couldn’t sneak past Hal Sutton, who won the title by a single shot.
Tiger had found success at this course in the past when he won his first U.S. Amateur title at the age of 18. Determined to get a professional win at the famed Stadium Course, things didn’t look great for Woods in the beginning. He was six shots back of the lead after an even-par round of 72 and the deficit remained the same heading into the weekend. He simply wasn’t making many big putts but he climbed back into contention in the third round, a round that featured one of his most iconic putts and also one of the great calls in golf history.
Tiger’s third round actually started with a bogey at the first hole and things continued to look dim. However, he rattled off three straight birdies to get to 5-under for the tournament on his way to an opening-nine 34. After a par at 10, he eagled the par-5 12th and followed it up with a birdie at the 12th. He also birdied the 16th and it was now time to tackle the famed island green (not technically an island) at the par-3 17th, a hole that Tiger had double-bogeyed the day before.
His tee shot certainly was not great, nearly ending up in the water and resting some 60 feet from the hole. If 60 feet isn’t daunting enough, then just throw in the fact that it was down the hill towards the cup and broke three different times. Making that putt is nearly impossible. Unless you’re Tiger Woods. He couldn’t put a ton of pace on it but just had to pick a spot at the slope and hope for the best. As the ball rolled down the green, it looked like he was going to at least get out of there with a two-putt par to keep his great round going but nobody expected this…or maybe we did.
The call from Gary Koch only made the putt better. Tiger did his signature fist pump as the gallery went crazy and finished with the low round of the day, a 6-under 66, and then held off Vijay Singh by one stroke with a final-round 67 to finish at 14-under for the week. Tiger had now won the major that’s not really a major but there was an actual major just ahead that would cap off the greatest year the sport has ever seen and likely ever will.