As Tiger Woods covered his face in victory, so too did so many others in defeat
Tiger Woods didn’t want us to see.
That’s what I remember about being there in the end with all the other members of the media, on that early Sunday evening at Augusta National in 2001, with the shadows growing long after Woods holed that last 18-foot birdie putt to close out his Masters’ victory. He pulled his cap over his face to cover the emotions rushing through him.
He didn’t want us to see, but we won’t forget what couldn’t be hidden in the brilliance of that moment.
We all knew we were seeing the greatest run in the history of golf, but it felt even grander than that, whether you were calling it a Grand Slam or not.
We all knew we were witness to something we might never see again with Woods winning his fourth consecutive professional major championship, the last three of the 2000 season and the first of ‘01.
We wondered if anyone could be more dominant than he was in this run.
Yes, it was just Woods’ sixth major championship, with Jack Nicklaus still towering so formidably with his 18 majors, but the domination Woods was exhibiting made you wonder if anyone was ever better.
This was Ruthian domination, the Celtics in the ‘60s and Secretariat in ’73.
Woods might not have buried David Duval and Phil Mickelson by winning the Masters that day, but he was burying everyone in that era in the larger sense of golf competition. It was his third victory in a row that season, a strong start on the heels of his nine victories in 2000.
He was just 25, but he left Augusta National that day having claimed his 27th title in 98 career PGA Tour starts.
That’s an absurd winning percentage.
I remember wondering if any run would ever be grander, not whether it was a Grand Slam or a Tiger Slam, because it really didn’t matter what we called winning four majors in a row over two seasons.
I remember what Augusta National Chairman Hootie Johnson said early in the week about Woods’ historic quest:
“I think we are talking too much about what it will not be, as opposed to what it will be,” Johnson said.
And I remember what he said just before Vijay Singh slipped the green jacket on Woods in front of the Masters’ patrons at Sunday’s end:
“Tiger, we are honored to have you as our champion, and you are the greatest,” Johnson said.
I also remember wondering about that generation of golfers, about Duval, Mickelson and the rest of that era. It seemed like such a simultaneously wondrous and awful time to be a player, because Woods cast such a suffocating shadow over them all.
Singh would have his run at No. 1 in the Woods’ era, Mickelson would carve five majors from it and Els add to his majors, too. Duval and Padraig Harrington would make their marks, but so much of that generation would be remembered for failing to step up, when maybe they never really had a chance.
Mostly, that’s what I remember at the end of the 2001 Masters, how Woods could make us feel like nobody had a real chance when he was on a leaderboard late on a Sunday.