Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Top 10 Tournaments of the Decade

Not much golf of note is being played this week. Therefore, I have compiled another top ten list. I hope you enjoy.

1. 2008 U.S. Open
Torrey Pines, the magnificent municipal course on the Pacific Ocean, set the stage for the tournament of the decade. Tiger Woods had already won here six times before, but the fun-loving veteran, Rocco Mediate, was not going to allow the world’s number one golfer to take his seventh without a fight. With Woods visibly struggling through the pain of an injured knee throughout the week, this U.S. Open felt longer and more strenuous than most. Tiger’s clutch putt on the 72nd hole to force a playoff with Rocco sent the galleries off like a rocket. Everyone put their money on Woods to win the ensuing 18 hole playoff the next day, but Mediate came out strong. Tiger had to sink another birdie putt on the 18th to force a 91st hole, and to no one’s amazement but everyone’s awe, he nailed it again. Rocco would bogie the first sudden death playoff hole, and Woods won his 14th major championship. He would undergo season-ending knee surgery one week later.

2. 2000 PGA Championship
During the last leg of Jack Nicklaus’s final march through the majors, his heir apparent gracefully took the stage. Woods and Nicklaus played the first two rounds of the 2000 PGA Championship together on Jack’s Valhalla design in Kentucky. Going into the final round, though, Woods held a one stroke lead over a childhood neighbor who had never had much success professionally. Bob May matched Tiger birdie for birdie during that memorable Sunday. Having the two of them paired together and playing their best to take home a major championship made for the most enjoyable tournament I have ever watched. Both guys were calm, but competitive while lighting up Valhalla on a hot August late afternoon. May holed a triple breaker on 18 for birdie, and Tiger made a much shorter birdie putt to force the three-hole playoff. Woods prevailed by one in the playoff to win his third major of 2000. It marked only the second time that anyone had won three majors in one year. And the event is symbolically remembered as Jack’s passing of golf’s torch to the young champion.

3. 2004 Masters
Phil Mickelson has been known as the “People’s Champion” since he hit the scene in the early 1990’s. He is a likable guy who takes the time to sign autographs and personally recognize his fans. He is a notorious gambler both on and off the course, and he serves as the Tour’s everyman to golf fans. Even though he won numerous regular events and contended in more than a few major championships for the first dozen or so years of his career, Phil continued to carry the title of best-player-never-to-have-won-a-major until April 2004. On the final day of competition at the 68th staging of the Masters Tournament at Augusta National, multiple major champion Ernie Els was charging hard on the back nine and posted a 67 to put him in the clubhouse at eight under par for the week. Mickelson was playing in the final group and made a 20 foot birdie putt on the par 3 16th hole to tie Els for the lead. Phil pared the 17th, and stepped onto the 18th tee still tied for the lead. After Mickelson holed his 18 foot birdie putt on his 72nd hole, he leaped for joy at the shedding of his hated title. His victorious jump is another endearing Phil image etched into the mind of every golf fan. I do not believe he stopped smiling for the next week.

4. 2005 Masters
The following Masters Tournament was just as exciting. Tiger fans would say it was even more exciting than the previous edition. Woods had not won a major championship since the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage, which for any other pro would not be considered a drought, but for Tiger fans it was a famine. He started the week off poorly, but he was fifteen under par during a 30-hole stretch that spanned the second and third rounds. After that, he took a three shot lead into Sunday over Chris DiMarco. DiMarco played outstanding golf while being paired with Woods. He shot a final round 68, but the drama he created is overshadowed by the unbelievable chip shot Woods holed on the par 3 16th hole. From the left side of the green, Tiger’s 30 foot hole out was spectacular as it dropped into the cup on a last second rotation of the ball when most thought it would stop just short. Woods went on to bogey the last two holes to fall into a sudden death playoff with DiMarco. However, Tiger regained his composure and won on the heels of a 15 foot birdie putt on 18. His chip in on 16, though, is my favorite shot of the decade.

5. 2003 President’s Cup
The relatively young biennial event that pits the twelve best players from the world outside of Europe against the twelve best players from the U.S. was visiting the continent of Africa for the first time in 2003. Gary Player’s Fancourt design along the shores of the Indian Ocean in South Africa would play host. Player and his American counterpart, Jack Nicklaus, captained the teams to the event’s only draw. At the conclusion of singles matches on Sunday, the teams were tied, and it was decided that a head-to-head sudden death playoff of only one participant from either team would determine the champion. Naturally Jack selected Woods to represent the United States, and Player allowed South African native, Ernie Els, to play for the International squad. Els had gone undefeated in all his team matches for the week, but Woods had beaten Ernie in their singles match earlier in the day. However as the sun set, the two matched pars on the first two playoff holes. Then on the third extra hole, Woods holed a 12 foot par saver putting the pressure on Els to make a testy six footer to keep his team’s hopes alive. Els sank the putt with hardly any daylight left, and the captains agreed to call the match a tie in the name of sportsmanship. At the time, Woods called his final stroke here the biggest putt of his career.

6. 2000 U.S. Open
In 2000, Tiger won the 100th U.S. Open. On Jack’s favorite track, Pebble Beach, Woods set the record for the largest margin of victory in a major championship. He won by fifteen! No one else in the field stood a chance, and many of the players felt defeated after his name was at the top following Thursday’s play. No one else could make a fifteen stroke victory interesting to viewers, but Woods drew worldwide attention and ratings throughout.

7. 2006 U.S. Open
Winged Foot won the 2006 U.S. Open as it did in 1974, but it was the most dramatic finish to a major during the decade. The people’s choice, Phil Mickelson, came to the 18th hole with a one stroke lead and his most lovable yet damning characteristic in hyperdrive. The gambler chose driver and sent the ball wide left near the hospitality tents. If that wasn’t enough, he decided to play the hero’s shot from his buried lie in the trees for his next move. That attempt advanced a total of about 25 yards after ricocheting off a nearby tree. From there he had a fried egg lie in the bunker chipping onto a severe downhill green. His next shot from the rough ended up about eight feet beyond the cup, a difficult putt had it been for the win. However, the people’s champion had already blown another chance at another major, and the Aussie’s choice, Geoff Ogilvy, won by a stroke.

8. 2005 Ford Championship at Doral
Tiger and Phil rarely play with one another in the final pairing of a PGA Tour tournament. One exception was at southern Florida’s Blue Monster in 2005. During the few times these two have gone head-to-head, only a couple have produced a showing of high-quality golf from both competitors. Woods stole the lead for the first time all week on the 12th hole of Sunday’s match, but Mickelson birdied the next two to take a share of the lead. Both players birdied the 16th, and Tiger sank a 30 footer on 17 to go one up, a lead he would hold through the conclusion. Vijay Singh had taken Woods’s number one world ranking earlier in 2004, but with his victory at Doral, Tiger was back on top.

9. 2000 PLAYERS Championship
Many Tour players had become intimidated by Tiger’s determination and red shirt Sundays by early 2000. That group of pros did not include Hal Sutton. The boy that hit the golfing scene with a splash in the early 1980’s had cooled considerably in the fifteen or so years inbetween. However, the surly Louisianan had been rebuilding his game and was paired with another young superstar in the final round of the PLAYERS Championship. Sutton had won the same event in 1983, and despite his slim lead over Woods on the 72nd hole, his nerves proved strong. On Sawgrass's intimidating 18th, Sutton stared down his approach shot to within 10 feet. The now-famous exchange between him, the ball, and his caddie Freddie Burns when his ball landed is one of my favorite. “Be the right club – TODAY,” he said while exchanging fives with his bagman. Sutton went on to take that event by one over Woods.

10. 2008 Arnold Palmer Invitational
One of the best finishing holes on Tour is number 18 at Arnie’s place. Bay Hill is also one of Tiger’s favorite courses to win at. In 2008, Tiger’s 24 foot birdie putt curled its way into the hole on a slippery putting surface heading towards the water as sun set. Arnold Palmer enjoyed watching the tremendous celebration as Woods won by one stroke over Bart Bryant. Tiger’s final round 66 earned him his fifth victory at Bay Hill.


  1. Fantastic work Steve! I'm really enjoying these top 10 lists.

  2. I was at Torrey Pines and Winged Foot. Amazing tournaments!


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