A new century strikes

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Tiger Woods, the dominant player of his age, features heavily in our celebration of the 10 greatest shots in the majors from the first decade of the 21st century. And they are all totally different shots; a magical chip-in at Augusta, a miraculous putt he simply willed into the hole while standing on only one working leg at Torrey Pines, and a holed six-iron at Hoylake. As Andy Farrell writes, the memory of standing behind the 14th green that day, of the almighty roar that went up from the grandstand and the standing ovation Woods received as he marched up to the slope from the fairway, will long endure. Slightly more surprising is the strong showing of Padraig Harrington, but for a year or so he produced golf of the highest class. We are also reminded of how close Lee Westwood came to being a major champion, twice finishing just shy of a play-off, at the 2008 U.S. Open and 2009 [British] Open, and another time thwarted by an outrageous piece of magic from Phil Mickelson at Augusta

Ernie Else 2002

2002 Ernie Els
[British] Open Championship, Muirfield
At the 13th hole in the final round, Els was in an awkward spot in a greenside bunker, but produced a remarkable shot that finished inside a foot from the hole. The par maintained his lead but he later collapsed and needed a playoff to win, with another fine bunker shot at the 18th—the fifth extra hole—to four feet securing his first Claret Jug. “The one on 13 was more difficult,” he said. “On 18 I had more room to work the ball but the one on 13, I was amazed I got it out there and almost holed it. It reminded me a lot of the Road Hole Bunker at St Andrews and I felt I had a shot at getting it out. I was in the same bunker on the second day and left it in but that was obviously my practice.”

2003 Shaun Micheel
PGA Championship, Oak Hill
After a bogey at the 17th hole at Oak Hill, 34-year-old journeyman Shaun Micheel led by one stroke as he attempted to become the seventh player to win a major championship on his first appearance. Chad Campbell, his nearest rival, put his approach at the last to 18 feet, giving himself a chance of a birdie, but Micheel, from 175 yards from the first cut of rough, launched a seven-iron that never left the flag and finished two inches from the hole. His third and last professional victory was assured. “I was in a pretty good spot, a little bit into the wind and left-to-right, a perfect lie and the absolutely perfect number,” he said. “I knew it was pretty close. I had to ask someone how close. When I saw it was two inches, I figured I could make that one.”

tiger-woods-2005

2005 Tiger Woods
Masters, Augusta National
Woods won the 2005 Masters in a playoff against Chris DiMarco after bogeying the last two holes. That he had a two-shot cushion with two to play was down to a miracle chip-in at the short 16th hole. Over the green and facing a 30-foot shot with 20 feet of break, Woods was merely trying to “throw the ball up on the slope, have it feed down there, hopefully get a makeable putt.” As the ball swung inexorably towards the hole, it stopped momentarily on the lip—the Nike logo visible as if this were the perfect commercial—and then toppled into the hole. “It’s one of the best shots I’ve ever hit because of the turning point involved,” Woods said. “If Chris makes his putt and I make bogey, I’m one back.” Famously, U.S. television commentator Verne Lundqvist exclaimed: “In your LIFE, have you ever seen anything like that?”

tiger-woods-2006

2006 Tiger Woods
[British] Open Championship, Hoylake
On the baked fairways of Hoylake during the heat wave Open of 2006, Woods’ strategy eschewed his wayward driver and laid back off the tee to keep the ball in play. It worked because of his supreme iron play all week and notably at the dangerous 14th hole on Friday. His second shot was from 212 yards and his six-iron pitched ten yards short of the flag and ran into the hole for an eagle. A huge roar went up from the gallery surrounding the green. “I had 194 yards to the front of the green and was trying to land the ball on the front edge and let it chase on,” he said. Woods took the lead that night and never relinquished it, claiming a third Open title and first major since the death of his father, with emotional scenes on the 18th green on Sunday.

Padraig Harrington by Leon Harris

2007 Padraig Harrington
[British] Open Championship, Carnoustie
On the final hole of the final round at Carnoustie, Harrington was “doing a Van de Velde”. The Frenchman had taken a seven on the 72nd hole in 1999 and after going in the water twice, and Harrington was just short of the Barry Burn in four. He then played a 47-yard pitch to five feet—the sort of shot he practices every day to his chipping green at home—and holed the putt to get into a play-off with Sergio Garcia. “It was a lovely pitch but to hole the putt was a great boost. I didn’t want to make a seven. It crossed my mind that Jean had made a seven to lose the Open and I was slipping down that slippery slope.” Unlike Van de Velde, Harrington won in extra time. “I took comfort from getting up and down and was really happy with the way I handled myself.”

tiger-woods-2008

2008 Tiger Woods
U.S. Open, Torrey Pines
With a snapped anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and a fractured left tibia, Woods was barely able to walk, let alone play 91 holes to win his 14th major. The pain got worse each day but somehow Woods got to the 72nd hole, the par-five 18th at Torrey Pines, with a 12-foot birdie-putt to tie Rocco Mediate. He seemed to hole it on willpower alone. “It was about two and a half balls outside the right and the green wasn’t very smooth but I made a pure stroke, hit it exactly where I wanted it, and it went in.” Woods said it was similar to the putt he made at Valhalla in the 2000 PGA Championship to make a play-off. “If I don’t make it, I don’t get to keep playing.” Woods won at the 19th hole the next day. “This is the greatest tournament I’ve ever had,” he said.

padraig-harrington-2007

2008 Padraig Harrington
[British] Open Championship, Royal Birkdale
Two clear of the clubhouse leader and three in front of his playing partner, the veteran Greg Norman, Harrington had 249 yards for his second shot at the par-five 17th hole. From a hanging lie, he hit a five-wood that set off low, rose slowly, drifted from left-to-right on the wind, found the green, ran up the ridge onto the top tier and curled off the shoulder of a bunker to three feet. The eagle made a successful defence of the claret jug a certainty and Harrington was able to enjoy a triumphant stroll up the 18th fairway. Such was the quality of the strike with the five-wood that Harrington’s caddie, Ronan Flood, did something he does not usually do with the ball still in the air—he said: “Good shot”. Harrington said: “That’s the first time I’ve heard him say that before the ball has finished.”

y.e.-yang-2009

2009 Y.E. Yang
PGA Championship, Hazeltine
For the first time ever, Tiger Woods lost a major when he had been leading with a round to play. As he scattered shots around the course, Yang first made up the two-shot deficit and then came to the last one ahead. While Woods missed the green from the middle of the fairway, Yang was in the first cut of rough on the left, his view of the green partially obstructed by trees. From 210 yards, his hybrid shot soared into the air and landed softly, 12 feet from the hole. While Woods bogeyed, Yang made the putt for a three-stroke victory. He celebrated becoming the first Korean man to win a major by lifting his golf bag over his head. “This is such a big thing that is happening to me right now,” he said. “Tiger’s good but he could always have a bad day.”

phil-mickelson-2010

2010 Phil Mickelson
Masters, Augusta National
Leading by two strokes, the obvious thing to do after driving into the trees on the right of the 13th fairway was to chip out. Mickelson had other ideas and produced a shot described as “foolhardy, reckless, brazen, unnecessary, driven, brilliant and glorious”. That’s Phil. Off the treacherous pine needles, he had to thread his shot between two trees and make the 207-yard carry over the tributary of Rae’s Creek in front of the green. Against the urgings of his caddie, and everyone else, Lefty got out a six-iron and hit the shot to four feet, converting for eagle. Typically, Mickelson explained: “I was going to have to go through that gap if I laid up or went for the green. I needed to trust my swing and hit a shot.” He went on to win by three strokes from Lee Westwood for a third green jacket.

Ernie ElsLee WestwoodMajor championchipsPadraig HarringtonPhil MickelsonTiger WoodsY.E. Yang
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