Woods fever hits Sawgrass

The former World No.1 proved that he’s still the most talked about player in golf just by turning up at Sawgrass. When he looked like he might win, the world’s media could barely contain their excitement.

Evidence that the ‘Tiger Effect’ is still as strong as ever was highlighted when the 14-time Major champion rolled back the clock with a spellbinding third round 65 at THE PLAYERS Championship last month and the golfing world erupted in a frenzy of excitement. Sports pages and TV news shows were filled with Tiger Talk and #TigerWoods was trending like crazy!

Alas, despite a solid closing round of 69, the magical comeback was thwarted by the unassailable lead Webb Simpson had built up over the previous three rounds. Did we mention that Webb Simpson won the event with one of the lowest scores in its 44-year history? We didn’t. Because nobody really cared. It was all about Tiger, who finished in a share of 11th place but succeeded in amplifying the attention on the PGA Tour’s ‘Fifth Major’ to a level not seen since the former World No.1’s heyday. The media frenzy began at the start of the week at Sawgrass when Tiger was paired with old foe Phil Mickelson over the first two rounds.

With Mickelson back in the spotlight after victory at the WGC-Mexico Championship in March and Woods showing signs of a renaissance with a runner up finish at the Valspar Championship two weeks later before notching a top five at the Arnold Palmer Invitational the following week, their Ponte Vedra pairing was always going to prompt a trip down memory lane to a time when the duo had a stranglehold on golf’s top prizes. Recent years have seen golf’s biggest trophies passed around a number of different players and despite the likes of Rory McIlroy (2014) and Jordan Spieth (2015) hinting at a period of dominance, none have come close to emulating Woods in his prime. Turn the clock back 17 years and heading into June 2001, Woods held all four Majors, THE PLAYERS and the WGC-NEC Invitational. Wrap your head around that for a minute!

Top of the world

“That was a pretty good run back then,” came the understatement of the year from Woods. “To hold all those events concurrently was special. I played well, I thought well, I putted well. I did everything well for, I guess, a few years there. My level of play then was something that in hindsight looking back on it was pretty high, and not only pretty high, but I held it for a long period of time. It wasn’t just for one week.” Mickelson had amassed 19 PGA Tour titles by the close of 2001. He took a little longer to start his assault on the biggest scalps in the game – winning the Masters four times in seven years between 2004 and 2010, a period that also saw him scoop up the PGA Championship, THE PLAYERS, THE TOUR Championship and a WGC among a string of titles.

But even then it was Woods who dominated the top spot in the World Ranking, occupying the No.1 position for a record 281 weeks between June 12, 2005 and October 30, 2010. “I don’t think anybody today who wasn’t there to witness it, and I don’t think anybody before, will ever see that level of play again,” said Mickelson, who despite winning 46 times across the PGA and European Tour including five Majors, has never been World No.1. “It was the most remarkable golf in the history of the game, and I think unrepeatable. I think it was that good. I look at 2000 as being kind of the benchmark at the US Open as being the greatest golf I’ve ever witnessed and I believe ever has been played. And it sucked to have to play against him. It really did. You look at it, and you say – ‘how am I going to beat this’. You know, there was a stretch there of a number of years that it was so impressive that it was hard to imagine that it was actually happening, that he was hitting some of the shots that he was hitting and playing that well.”