By Thomas Sellers Jr.
As a child
your heroes are larger than life and have to live up to a standard of perfection.
Then adulthood hits us all and we realize nobody walks this Earth without a blemish. Time will reveal all those we place on a plateau have demons, temptations and faults.
Our heroes are exposed as human. Back in 2009, one of my favorite athletes of all time, Eldrick Tont “Tiger” Woods, had his picture-perfect life hit a huge roadblock. Literally, a car accident brought Tiger’s other side to light.
Over the next decade, the most dominant golfer of his era went from an unbeatable force on the links to a man who was searching for a win in his personal and professional lives. The fundamentally sound golfer was exposed as a cheater in his marriage.
Then the game he loved betrayed him. The injuries started to mount up, leading to the surgeries pilling up on Tiger’s back.
Ready to give up the sport that made him a legend, Tiger would have stopped playing competitive golf, leaving the game as arguably one of the two best next to Jack Nicklaus.
Tiger has broken numerous golf records like being the world’s No. 1 for the most consecutive weeks and for the greatest total number of weeks of any golfer. He has been awarded PGA Player of the Year a record 11 times and has won the Byron Nelson Award for lowest adjusted scoring average a record eight times.
Tiger has the record of leading the money list in 10 different seasons. He had won 14 professional major golf championships, trailing only Jack Nicklaus, who leads with 18. Tiger had nearly 80 PGA Tour events (second all time behind Sam Snead, who won 82).
But Tiger fought back throughout 2018 to regain his spot atop the game. Now with a new game plan and a different approach to beating the field, Woods won his 81st PGA Tour event April 14. That victory happened to be his 15th major and fifth Green Jacket at the Masters.
For a moment, I was taken back to being a teenager watching my hero celebrate a moment of joy and championship glory. Watching Tiger hug his son, Charlie, seconds after winning the 2019 Masters, I had a flashback to a 21-year-old Tiger embracing his father, Earl.
As the tears flowed down my cheeks, I realized heroes are humans who can inspire us to overcome trials and tribulations. Nobody is perfect, but somebody can take imperfect moments to become better people. Then that life lesson can be a teaching moment for others.
Tiger’s greatest championship is being a father who can now teach, inspire and motivate Charlie and Sam, as well as many fans.
But there were 15 times the greatest golfer ever inspired with his play on the biggest stages of his profession. This week’s Best Sellers’ List is going to rank the top 10 Tiger major victories. The ones missing the cut were 2005 The Open Championship and 2007 PGA Championship.
10. 1999 PGA Championship
In the last major played before I officially began classes at The University of Memphis, Tiger earned the distinction as the youngest player with two career majors since Seve Ballesteros at the age of 23. Tiger Woods won the title, outlasting an even younger challenger in Sergio Garcia. Garcia stole the show at Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill., at the 81st PGA Championship held Aug. 12-15.
Woods played a five-hole stretch at 4-over, opening the door for the 19-year-old Garcia to make a charge. Then Tiger made an 8-foot par save on No. 17 to seal the win.
9. 2002 U.S. Open
Of The Masters, The (British) Open Championship and PGA Championship, the one golf major that humbles the best golfers in the world is the U.S. Open. Back in 2002, Tigers was the only man to score under par when the four days were over at the Black Course of Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale, N.Y.
The 102nd U.S. Open was June 13-16 of that year. The two names atop the leader board that Sunday were the icons of that era, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Lefty broke even by the end of the tournament. Woods tallied a 67, 68, 70 and 72 to finish 3-under par for the title. Tiger displayed patience throughout the weekend. His long drives and accurate short game were the difference in overcoming the course.
8. 2002 Masters Tournament
Augusta National Golf Club became Tiger’s personal playground in the 2000s. The 66th Masters Tournament in Augusta, Ga. April 11-14 was another opportunity for Woods to illustrate this. But another myth received additional muscle back in 2002 — the Tiger Effect.
The Tiger Effect is seeing Woods’ name near the top of the leader board, and opposing golfers becoming intimidated.
That weekend Tiger won his third Masters, second consecutive, with a score of 276 over four days. He finished three strokes ahead of runner-up Retief Goosen.
To try to limit Tiger’s dominance, Augusta National was lengthened by 285 yards over the previous year. Woods left Augusta that day as a 26-year-old golf with seven career majors.
At that point, Tiger still didn’t have a second-place finish in a major. Jack Nicklaus had six seconds that point. It was as if a golf would see Tiger was approaching the top and would politely move out the way in order for Woods to take his proper place.
7. 2006 PGA Championship
Back to Medinah for the 88th PGA Championship. Enduring a new phase of his life, Tiger was still on a mission to prove he was his own man. On Aug. 17-20, Woods earned his 12th major title, finishing five shots ahead of Shaun Micheel (2003 PGA Championship winner).
Already an international superstar and golf icon, Tiger saw this victory cement his place in the Mt. Rushmore of golfers. Tiger passed Walter Hagen to hold second place on the all-time majors list behind the Golden Bear’s 18. Names like Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Tom Watson, Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen had already been left in the rearview mirror.
The 2006 PGA Championship title set the stage for Jack’s legacy vs. Tiger.
6. 2005 Masters Tournament
On a quiet April Sunday evening at my parent’s home I was enjoying the final round of the Masters. That April 10th was the day I witnessed the greatest golf shot ever. The 2005 Masters was transforming into a duel between Tiger and challenger Chris DiMarco.
My brothers Carlos and Cordarous outnumbered me for the family room TV and I had to move my viewing to the back in my parent’s bedroom.
Then the 16th hole of the final round came into play. Woods was holding a one-stroke lead at the time when his approach shot rested on the fringe of the green. According to Woods’ former caddie, the golfer aimed for a mark the size of a dime and hit it on the fly.
The ball landed several feet above the hole as it began to roll downward. As the Nike golf ball slowly rolled toward the flag, the ball stopped on the edge of the hole. Then the Nike logo flashed the camera, appearing to stop. After what seemed like a few minutes, the ball finally rolled into the darkness of the hole, giving Tiger a commanding advantage.
At that moment I erupted with the loudest cheer. CBS commentator Verne Lunquist shouted, “In your life!” I’m just shouting and pumping my fist. I was so loud that my brothers ran to the back to see about the commotion.
“I thought you were watching golf?” Carlos said.
I replied, “No, I’m watching Tiger.”
Woods, 29, won his fourth green jacket on the first hole of a playoff with Chris DiMarco.
5. 2006 The Open Championship
The links that cover England are known as the birthplaces of golf. The man who helped create Tiger Woods through birth and training, Earl Woods, passed away in 2006. Just two months after burying his father, Tiger stood on the course of Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England, about to win the 135th Open Championship.
The weekend of July 20-23 was one of the most emotionally tough for Woods. But he outlasted Chris DiMarco, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk and Sergio García for a two-shot victory.
It was Woods’ 11th major championship, but the first he couldn’t share with the man who taught him golf. I will never forget the moment when Tiger overcame the field and his emotional pains to sink his final putt. Then he buried his head on the shoulder of his then-caddie Steve Williams.
It was the first time I saw emotion from my hero as he sobbed. Tiger was in pain during a joyous moment.
4. “The Tiger Slam” 2000 U.S. Open, 2000 The Open Championship, 2000 PGA Championship, 2001 Masters Tournament
Only one man has ever played the game of golf and held all four major titles at the same time. That was Tiger Woods as of April 2001. When Vijay Singh placed the green jacket on Tiger April 8, 2001, Woods was also the owner of the 2000 U.S. Open, Open Championship and PGA title.
Tiger’s achievement and ownership of all four titles at the same time was an unofficial grand slam. To achieve a true grand slam is to win all four championships in the same calendar year. But what Tiger accomplished in 2000 and 2001 was still amazing.
It all started with Tiger’s finest golf performance in a major with the 100th U.S. Open. The 2000 United States Open Championship was June 15–18 at Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, Calif. Tiger’s 12-under score was 15 strokes better than the rest of the competition.
Next up was the 2000 Open Championship. The 129th Open Championship was July 20-23 at the Old Course in St Andrews, Scotland. Tiger Woods, 24, won his first Open Championship and fourth major title by eight strokes ahead of runners-up Thomas Bjørn and Ernie Els.
That August, Tiger went into the PGA Championship as a clear favorite. Bob May tested Tiger on that Sunday, Aug. 20. The 2000 PGA Championship was the 82nd PGA Championship held at the Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky. I will never forget Tiger chasing down his clutch putt during the three-hole playoff. On the first hole of the playoff, Tiger drained a birdie, arriving at the hole before the ball went down.
Then history was made in April 2001 with Tiger winning the Masters with a score of 16-under par over household names David Duval and Mickelson. The Tiger Slam was complete and if you needed to reference the winner of the previous four majors in golf at that time, you only needed one name — Tiger Woods, y’all.
3. 2008 U.S. Open
For the longest, the world thought this would go down in history as Tiger Woods’ last major title. The 2008 United States Open Championship was the 108th U.S. Open. It was maybe Tiger’s finest hour as a professional. With one-leg, Tiger played June 12–16 at Torrey Pines in San Diego, Calif. Woods won his third U.S. Open and 14th major title, surviving an 18-hole playoff the Monday after Father’s Day against Rocco Mediate.
Lasting images, Tiger sinking the putt on 18 that Sunday to force the playoff with Rocco. In his trademark red and black, Tiger came back that Monday knowing he had to overcome Mediate and the pain running through his body.
Seeing a man once thought to be a robot grimace in pain made me root harder for Tiger. He survived another 18 holes and Mediate. The 10th anniversary of that victory, I was coming to the acceptance that would be Tiger’s final major title. He would never get past 14 majors. But what a way to go out, giving up your body for the game you love.
2. 2019 Masters Tournament
Then April 14, 2019, came. Tiger is back. Almost 11 years since that iconic victory at the U.S. Open, Woods claimed his fifth green jacket, one behind Jack, and earned his 15th major overall. As some of the young guns Tiger inspired faltered down the stretch, it became apparent Tiger was going to do it.
His final round 2-under par left him at 13-under overall. It was one shot better than Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Xander Schauffele.
A green jacket never looked so good with a red mock turtleneck by Nike. I started crying when Woods gave a release of celebration over his victorious putt. Hugging his children made the tears flow even more.
Quickly I flashed back to the 15-year-old who celebrated a champion 22 years earlier.
1. 1997 Masters Tournament
On April 13, 1997, a man who looked like me won the most cherished golf championship in the United States. The 1997 Masters Tournament was the 61st Masters Tournament held April 10–13. Those four days at the Augusta National Golf Club became the coronation for Tiger. Wearing his power color red selected by his mother Kultida, Tiger Woods won his first major championship 12 strokes ahead of runner-up Tom Kite. The old guard was moved out the way by force with Tiger’s performance that weekend. Through 2019, the margin of victory and four-day score of 270 are tournament records.
Tiger won a victory for social change that day. He earned fans of all races that day. Woods took a large step toward becoming an iconic figure in America. But most importantly, he validated all the time invested in him by his father Earl.
Earl, who wasn’t supposed to be in Augusta because of his heart condition, disobeyed doctors’ order and flew to Georgia to witness history. Maybe for Earl it was a chance to be there to watch his investment come to fruition. Tiger hugging his father is one of the best sporting moments of all time. Even if Tiger goes on to win his 18th major and tie Jack, it will be hard to replace the ‘97 Masters as his best major moment.
THOMAS SELLERS JR. is the editor of The Millington Star and both the sports editor and a weekly personal columnist for Journal West 10 Media LLC. Contact him by phone at (901) 433-9138, by fax to (901) 529-7687 and by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.