With Tiger Woods legitimately back in the fold this week at the US Open, one can’t help but reminisce about his remarkable performance at Pebble Beach in 2000. It was the type of golf we’ll likely never see again, a 15-stroke romp that remains the largest margin of victory in Major-championship history. That week Woods accomplished a number of jaw-dropping feats: no three-putts, no bogeys in the final round, the first player to finish double-digits under par in a US Open, and on and on it went. While many of the records he set have been broken, the utter dominance will never be duplicated.
And to think, it could have all been undone early on Saturday morning, as Woods was unknowingly on the verge of a potential DQ. We’ll explain.
That week, Woods had put a new golf ball into play, the Nike Tour Accuracy. The development of the ball and the decision to use it at Pebble can be read about in great detail in this Golf.com piece by Jonathan Wall as well as the “Tiger Woods” book that hit shelves last year. Woods shot a first-round 65 with the new ball, which on that Thursday was only good enough for a one-shot lead over Miguel Angel Jimenez. The next day, fog delayed the second round, and Woods was only able to complete 12 holes.
“I didn’t finish the night before [Saturday] until around 9,” Woods said in the September 2004 issue of Australian Golf Digest, recalling the crazy story. “I hadn’t putted well that day, so I took three balls out of my bag and putted on the hotel-room carpet. I normally take nine to 12 balls to the course, but I only had seven left – I probably scuffed up a couple and gave them to kids. I left the three balls on the carpet; now I’ve only got four balls when I get to the course.”
At the time, Woods was not aware of how many balls were actually in his bag, understandable given how laser-focused he was that week on winning. Had he known how few he had left, maybe he would have been a bit more conservative with giving them out, but Woods gave away two more to a few kids, leaving him with just two left and six holes remaining when concluding his third round on the Saturday morning.
Again, unaware of the ball count, Woods pulled his drive into Carmel Bay at the 18th tee, leaving him with one golf ball in the bag. One bad swing and Woods could have either been disqualified or gone through a number of other options that all would have resulted in a penalty. His caddie at the time, Steve Williams, was aware of the ball count, and did everything he could to get Woods to play smart, to no avail.
“Stevie said, ‘I’d like for you to hit an iron, just to get it into play,'” Woods said. “But I was swinging it so well, so I went with the driver. Obviously I didn’t know the complete situation: the only ball I had left was the one I teed up.
“I would have been disqualified with no balls. If you run out of balls, you’re out.”
Technically, Woods could have borrowed a ball from a competitor provided it was the exact brand and type, which was unlikely given Woods had just put the newly manufactured ball into play that week. He also could have bought the balls from the golf shop, or sent someone to his hotel room to get more. Any of these choices would have resulted in a two-stroke penalty for an undue delay, likely leading to a double-digit number on the par-5 18th. This is all assuming he lost the second and final ball in his bag.
Of course, Woods did not, instead putting his second tee shot in play and saving a bogey, preserving the greatest and most dominant performance in golf history. Chances are slim-to-none that Woods will replicate that performance this week, but you can absolutely bet on him bringing enough golf balls this time.