PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Standing on the 18th fairway, Tiger Woods turned his back on Pebble Beach and looked out over Carmel Bay in the final moments of the most monumental U.S. Open victory ever.
He was all alone, playing for himself -- and for history.
No one was close to catching him.
No one is close in the game.
"We've been talking about him for two years," Ernie Els said. "I guess we'll be talking about him for the next 20. When he's on, we don't have much of a chance."
While the rest of the field was playing for second, Woods took aim at the record books. When the final putt fell, Woods owned his third major championship, along with the kind of records no one imagined possible.
He became the first player in the 106-year history of the U.S. Open to finish 72 holes at double digits under par -- 12 under.
His 15-stroke victory not only shattered the Open mark of 11 set by Willie Smith in 1899, but was the largest ever in a major championship, surpassing the 13-stroke victory by Old Tom Morris in the 1862 British Open.
His 272 tied the lowest score ever in a U.S. Open, first set by his idol, Jack Nicklaus, in 1980 and later matched by Lee Janzen in 1993. Both those came at Baltusrol, which played as a par 70.
"Records are great, but you don't really pay attention to that," Woods said. "The only thing I know is I got the trophy sitting right next to me. To perform the way I did, and on one of the greatest venues in golf, it doesn't get much better than that."
More history awaits next month. Woods goes to the British Open at St. Andrews with a chance to become only the fifth player -- and at age 24, the youngest -- to win all four major championships.
"He'll really have to be on his game to have a chance against us, won't he?" said Nick Faldo, rolling his eyes.
Too bad for Els and Miguel Angel Jimenez that the U.S. Open didn't have a B-flight this year. They had to settle for second place, at 3-over 287, their names in the record books, but only as footnotes.
This really wasn't the U.S. Open; it was the Tiger Woods Classic.
"I could have played out of my mind and still lost by six or seven," Els said. "He's near perfect, the way he played this week."
So dominant was this performance that Woods never made worse than par over his final 26 holes. He closed with a 4-under 67, the best score of the day, then took a phone call from President Clinton.
Jimenez had a 71, while Els finished with a 72. Woods began the final round with a 10-stroke lead, and no one got any closer than eight.
"Before we went out, I knew I had no chance," Els said.
Woods said his first U.S. Open victory "wasn't too bad a Father's Day present" even though Earl Woods did not make the trip to Pebble Beach.
"It was like watching a Mercedes climb a hill," his father said from his home in Cypress. "The power was there, the control was there. It's just on cruise control."
Even though the outcome was never in question, Woods managed to provide plenty of thrills on a lazy, sunny day along the rugged California coastline.
The gallery occupied every inch of grass along every fairway and behind every green, craning to catch a glimpse of history. Yachts crammed into Stillwater Cove, and spectators lined the beach below the famous "Cliffs of Doom" that overlook the Pacific.
Three years ago on the other side of the country, Woods turned in a similarly scintillating performance, taming Augusta National to become the youngest Masters champion with a record 12-stroke victory.
The U.S. Open, however, was never supposed to look this easy. It is the toughest test in golf. Its aim is to identify the best player in the world.
Woods has now played in 14 majors as a professional and won three of them, including the PGA Championship in August. In his last five majors, his worst finish is a tie for seventh.
This time, it seemed as though he was playing in a different tournament than everyone else. Perhaps he simply is playing a different game.
Just as he had done from the start, Woods did everything required of a U.S. Open champion -- and more. He hit fairways, often the middle stripe left by the lawn mowers, and hit more greens in regulation than anyone.
"Nobody else seems to be playing up to his level," said Tom Kite, who won the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. "No one is scrambling the way he is. No one is pitching, chipping, putting the way he is. You need competition. Otherwise, it gets boring."
Mark O'Meara added: "If you were building the complete golfer, you'd build Tiger Woods."
It was the third major championship for Woods. Among active players, only Faldo (6) and Seve Ballesteros (5) have won more.
Woods won the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am four months ago and thus joined Ben Hogan (Riviera in 1948) and Nicklaus (Pebble in 1972) as the only players to claim a U.S. Open on the same course where they had won a regular tour event in the same year.
Woods pulled off a stunning comeback in February, making up seven strokes over his last seven holes with spectacular shots that have defined his career.
This time, he was brilliant over 72 holes and made a mockery of a U.S. Open that prides itself in protecting par.
It did just that -- for everyone but Woods.
"For Tiger to break par the way he has shows how he has separated himself not just from present-day golfers, but from golfers from the past, as well," Phil Mickelson said.
Woods played the front nine with all pars. Then, as if sensing records were in range, poured it on with one spectacular shot after another.
He birdied four of the first five holes on the back nine, and saved par from a bunker on 17 with a shot that nearly went in.
"I played with him today, and it was just awesome to watch," Els said. "Anything I say is going to be an understatement."
After the final putt fell, Woods kissed the trophy and held it aloft. It was his 100th professional start, including unofficial events, and he won the 100th U.S. Open.
"That's what I had in mind," he said, as the crowd laughed at his blunt reply. "Well, I'm honest."
Woods' victory was his 20th on the PGA Tour, making him the only active player to achieve lifetime exemption -- although he'll have to wait until 2010 to have put in the required 15 years.
Woods won for the 12th time in his past 21 tour events, and the 14th time in his past 25 tournaments worldwide, a staggering rate. He also improved to 18-2 in tournaments where he has had at least a share of the 54-hole lead.
Woods took the lead in the fog Thursday with a birdie from the bunker on the 18th hole. He never gave it back, becoming only the fifth wire-to-wire U.S. Open champion and first since Tony Jacklin in 1970.
It also was the first time Woods had led a tournament from start to finish.
The rest of the U.S. Open -- that other tournament that was going on -- had an international flavor.
John Huston had a 70 to finish fourth at 288, followed by European Ryder Cup teammates Lee Westwood and Padraig Harrington at 289. Faldo finished sixth, his best showing in a major since the '96 British Open.
Vijay Singh tied for eighth, the best U.S. Open performance by a Masters champion in 10 years. The Grand Slam in a calendar year is no longer possible.
Woods, meanwhile, is on the verge of a career Grand Slam. He goes to St. Andrews as the prohibitive favorite. And he's still a decade away from reaching his prime.
© 2018. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us