Late on Sunday evening Tiger Woods and his processional toured the grounds of Valhalla Golf Club, attending to some of the obligations that come with making history. Champagne was poured, presentations made and everywhere Woods went he was fussed over as if he were a visiting pasha. One PGA Championship official shadowed Woods's every move, his only duty being to lug around the oversized Wanamaker Trophy, which Woods had retained for another year by successfully defending his title earlier in the day. Another minion was serving him food, including a plate of cantaloupe and pineapple, a serving of rice and a strawberry Popsicle, all of which Woods scarfed down as he floated from one function to the next.
Amidst the pomp and circumstance Woods wore his usual superstar sheen, his omnipresent smile like an endless row of piano keys, but as soon as he hit the parking lot, something changed. Away from the bright lights and fawning fans his star power seemed to drain away. By the time Woods made the long walk across the parking lot to a waiting stretch limousine, he was walking with a pronounced limp. "My calf is killing me," he groaned, referring to soreness in his right leg. Settling into the limo, the weight of the world seemed to finally hit him. "Man, I'm tired," Woods said before disappearing into the night. "It's been a long day."
To see a spent and suffering Woods was to be reminded that he's still flesh and blood, a fact all but obscured by the otherworldly golf he had played over the final day of the PGA. Pushed to the brink by fearless 31-year-old journeyman Bob May, Woods responded with the most clutch performance of an already legendary career. Trailing by two strokes early in the final round, he played the last 12 regulation holes in seven under par to force a three-hole playoff and then won the trophy with a birdie and a pair of bloodless pars.
This was golf to raise the dead, and as Woods's dominance continues, it has become increasingly apparent that he's competing only against the ghosts of the game's greats. For Woods, this PGA was his third victory by a record-low score in a major championship in the past nine weeks, following wins by unprecedented margins at the U.S. and British Opens. He now joins Ben Hogan as the only other player to prevail in three professional majors during a season. Hogan's hat trick, in 1953, has always ranked alongside Bobby Jones's Grand Slam in '30 and Byron Nelson's '45 campaign, when Nelson won 18 tournaments, including 11 in a row, as the standards by which a standout season is measured. For nearly half a century none of these performances has been matched, and now, suddenly, these benchmark years all have been surpassed by Woods in 2000. With the thunder of his PGA victory still echoing, it's time to put into words what Woods has said so eloquently with his clubs: He has wrought the greatest season in golf history.
"Someday I'll tell my grandkids I played in the same tournament as Tiger Woods," Hall of Famer Tom Watson said last week. "We are witnessing a phenomenon here that the game may never, ever see again."
On Sunday, May played like a champion. Woods played like a god, albeit one who got off to a slow start. When he three-putted the 6th hole for his second bogey of the day, Woods found himself in a four-way tie for second, two in arrears of May, who was rousing the specter of Jack Fleck (chart, page 75). Woods rallied with consecutive birdies on 7 and 8 to pull even with May, and a back nine for the ages ensued.
On the par-5 10th both players got up-and-down from the sand for birdie. On 11, May sank a 25-foot bomb for a birdie that propelled him back into the lead. At 12, a brutal 467-yard par-4 that is Valhalla's number 1 handicap hole, May stuffed an eight-iron from 181 yards to two feet for his third straight birdie. Warming to the chase, Woods drilled a 15-footer to stay one down. Both played brilliant shots into the par-3 14th, and Woods holed his downhill, sidehill 15-foot putt. May stepped up and topped him with a tricky 12-footer. How long could the perfect golf continue? "It was an incredible battle," Woods said. "We never backed off. Birdie for birdie, shot for shot, that's as good as it gets."
The drama heightened at the par-4 15th. May striped a seven-iron to within six feet of the cup, while Woods pulled his approach to the left and played an indifferent putt from off the green. It looked like May might go three strokes ahead with three holes to play. Still away, Woods then buried a big-breaking 15-footer to save par. "I knew if I made mine, it would make his putt a little bit longer," Woods said later, and sure enough, May blew his birdie chance, his first stumble.
At first blush May seems as drab as the khaki-olive ensemble he wore on Sunday, but beneath that slightly chubby, balding exterior beats the heart of a daredevil with a need for speed. A Southern California native, May owns three motorcycles, including such crotch rockets as a Ducati and a Kawasaki Ninja, and he has piloted speedboats in excess of 120 mph. His game has been hardened by years in exile on the European tour, where he often played for his supper. If May, with that disconcerting hitch in his swing and zero career PGA Tour victories on his r�sum�, didn't belong on the same course as Woods, someone forgot to tell him.
Woods finally drew even with a textbook birdie on 17, and on 18, an uphill par-5 of 542 yards, both reached the saddle-shaped green with two mighty blows, setting up long, difficult lag putts. May went first, from the front left, and his nerve momentarily deserted him. He blasted his putt clear off the green, 15 feet above the hole, and when Tiger putted to within six feet, it looked as if the fight might be over. But then May brushed in his ball with alarming ease, and suddenly Woods needed a knee-knocking downhill six-footer to prevent an upset that would haunt him for the rest of his career. Once again, he willed his ball into the cup. "That's why he's Tiger Woods," said May.