Tiger's Majors Ranked and Rated

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Jack Nicklaus, with 18 major championships to his name – remains the yardstick against which all other golfers are rated. However, Tiger Woods has lifted 14 Grand Slam trophies and, along the way, broken numerous scoring records and performed feats not far short of miraculous. In fact, a strong argument can be made that, at his considerable best, the now 38-year-old Californian played golf at a higher level than any other player in history.

But which one of Tiger’s majors was the best? To create our definitive list, we took five key factors into account and gave them a ranking out of 10. First, we looked at Tiger’s dominance and his winning margin over the field. Then we looked at the quality of his play and the excitement and drama generated. We also took into account the historical relevance of Woods’ victory and whether he broke any important performance or scoring records. We combined all five factors to come up with an overall ranking out of 50.

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This was, at the time, your patented Tiger Woods major championship victory. After lurking just off the lead for two days, Woods suddenly found himself tied for the lead with Retief Goosen and a handful of strokes ahead of arch rivals Vijay Singh, Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson with a round to play. As often happened in those days, however, the rest of the field completely disintegrated in his presence and Woods played steady percentage golf to enjoy a comfortable yet entirely predictable three-stroke victory. Ho-hum.

Another win, another record – this time becoming the first man ever to win the US PGA twice at the same venue (Medinah). He was pushed hard for the victory though – at least for a while. Tied with Englishman Luke Donald, searching for his first major championship victory, with 18 holes to play, Woods cruised to a final round 68 while his playing partner crumbled with a 74. Woods eventually won by five shots from 2003 champion Shaun Micheel. Yet again, the famous Woods mystique was more than enough to get it done in majors against a typically cowering opposition. 

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Unusually, Woods arrived in Augusta for his 11th Masters winless in his 10 previous major championships. It was – not for the last time – a streak that was becoming a bit of an issue. And this was hard work, especially after an opening 74 left him seven shots behind leader Chris DiMarco. Still six back at halfway, Woods made what was to prove (eventually) the killer thrust on day three, a 65 that bequeathed a three-shot edge going into the final round. It was one he needed though. Bogeys on 17 and 18 dropped him into a play-off with DiMarco, one he would win with a birdie at the first extra hole.

It was one of the few things Woods had never done in any major championship: shoot 63. But he ticked that off his “to-do” list on day two at a stifling Southern Hills in Tulsa. In fact, he could hardly have come closer to becoming the first man to shoot 62 in any of the four Grand Slam events. Just when it seemed to be heading for the bottom of the cup, his putt on the last green somehow lipped-out. No matter. In the end, Woods was a comfortable winner. Ahead by two shots at the halfway mark, he did what he always seemed to do in such situations – fairways and greens – and was never caught.

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Back at St Andrews, Woods yet again underlined his dominance on golf’s ultimate strategic venue with a five-stroke victory over Colin Montgomerie. Perhaps just as significantly, it marked Jack Nicklaus’ last appearance in the game’s oldest event. On the course where he had twice won previously, the Golden Bear went out on a typically high note with a 15-foot birdie on the final green. That day was his, but yet again the week belonged to Woods. “If ever a course was built for him, this is it,” sighed Monty.

The middle of Woods’ three “national Opens,” as his compatriots refer to it, was his second major title of the year and set in motion talk of another – this time even more historic – “Tiger Slam.” That wasn’t to be, courtesy of the Scottish weather at Muirfield and Ernie Els a month later, but the three-under-par aggregate Woods shot at Bethpage was impressive enough. Over what he called the “narrowest US Open course I’ve ever played,” he was the only man in red figures after 72 holes, three shots clear of perennial runner-up Phil Mickelson.

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By itself, this was just another major victory for Woods. But his second win at Augusta National – this time by two shots from David Duval – had a much wider significance. For two months at least, Woods would hold all four Grand Slam titles, a feat comparable only with Bobby Jones’ annexing of the previous version back in 1930. The only caveat this time, of course, was that the so-called “Tiger Slam” was not accomplished in a calendar year. No matter. No one had ever achieved the feat before and no one has managed to do it again since.

Perhaps most memorable for the shot Sergio Garcia played from the foot of a tree with his eyes shut – closely followed by a run, skip and jump up Medinah’s 16th fairway – this was Woods’ second major victory. And one of the narrowest. Knowing he needed two pars to win, the then 23-year old made a clutch eight-footer on the penultimate hole, then two-putted from distance on the final green to edge out the even-younger Spaniard by a single shot. It was billed as the beginning of a long and hard-fought rivalry, but in the years since, Woods has added 12 more majors; Garcia remains on zero.

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While Woods routinely saw off big-name challengers, he sometimes had trouble beating less-likely individuals. This was one such case. In an epic duel that spilled over into a three-hole play-off, Bob May shot 66 around Valhalla three days in a row and still found himself beaten. Typically too, Woods made vital putts, most notably a sliding five-footer on the 72nd to join the play-off. “This was my most exciting major from a player’s standpoint,” said Woods. “Usually you can just kind of cruise in with pars and win. That wasn’t going to be the case today.” No indeed.

This was a clinic. On a burned yellow Hoylake course, Woods used his driver once in 72 holes en route to a two-shot victory over fellow American, Chris DiMarco. The now three-time Open champion teed his long iron after long iron from tee and fairway. For links golf devotees, it was a throwback to when the game at the highest level was played more on the ground than in the air. This was too, Woods’ most openly emotional victory. Only a few weeks after the death of his father, Earl, he burst into tears and fell into caddie Steve Williams’ arms after holing the winning putt.

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Only three weeks after his 15-shot US Open victory at Pebble Beach, Woods underlined his superiority with an eight-shot win at St Andrews. In doing so, he completed the career Grand Slam – the youngest and only fifth man to do so – and, remarkably, he did not find one of the fearsome bunkers. His 269 aggregate was the lowest-ever Open score at golf’s most famous venue. There was time too, for a touch of symbolism. As Woods waited to begin his second round, Jack Nicklaus (who missed the cut by six shots) was putting out on the adjacent 18th green.

In the beginning, there was an inexperienced young pro who, playing with defending champion Nick Faldo, was four-over through nine. By the end, golf had, at 21, the youngest-ever Masters winner and a new black superstar. In cruising to a 12-shot win, Tiger reduced Augusta to little more than pitch-and-putt, routinely hitting short iron second shots into even the par 5s. Records tumbled. Woods’ aggregate of 270 was a Masters low. His nine-stroke 54-hole lead was the biggest ever. And he played the last three rounds in a record 16-under par (66-65-69).

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This was as close as professional golf has come to seeing total domination. The only man under par for 72 holes – and the first-ever to record a double-digit under-par winning score – Tiger claimed the 100th US Open title by 15 shots. Other records tumbled too. This was the largest winning margin in a major. And Woods became the first golfer ever to win the US Junior, Amateur and Open Championships. The tributes were many and fulsome, but future US Open winner, Michael Campbell, perhaps put it best: “The man is a freak of nature, worlds apart from us in every way.”

Even a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and stress fractures in his left tibia weren’t enough to prevent the greatest golfer of his generation from annexing his 14th (and, to date, last) major title. Truly, it was epic stuff on what was supposed to be the final round, the highlight surely the bumpy 10-foot putt Woods holed on the 72nd green to force an 18-hole play-off with Rocco Mediate. But even that wasn’t enough to decide the winner. Tied on 71, the pair went one more extra hole before Woods prevailed with an anti-climactic par.

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