There have been a few in over a half-century of reporting on sports for a living.
Anthony Carter for the 1987 Vikings vs. New Orleans and then San Francisco in the playoffs. Kirby Puckett’s 10-for-11 with four home runs on Aug. 29-30, 1987, in Milwaukee’s County Stadium.
Rod Carew, start to finish in 1977. Kirby and Jack Morris, back-to-back in October 1991.
Bobby Jackson vs. Clemson in the 1997 NCAA tournament. Lindsay Whalen, coming back from her broken hand, vs. UCLA in the 2004 NCAA tournament. Kevin Garnett, bringing all his weapons, in Game 7 vs. Sacramento in 2004.
Curt Schilling with the bloody sock (even if I did suspect food coloring). Chris Chandler handling the Metrodome din vs. the Vikings on Jan. 17, 1999. Antonio Rebollo, lighting the cauldron with a flaming arrow on opening night of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
UNLV 103, Duke 73. Can’t forget that glorious night.
You could nominate hundreds of events. The qualifier here is that I had to be there.
And starting Thursday, the U.S. Open will be played again at Pebble Beach, and it will bring a vivid memory of the greatest sports performance I’ve ever covered:
Tiger Woods’ 15-stroke romp to victory in the 2000 Open on an oceanside course that 155 players found to range from difficult to impossible, and that a 24-year-old meteor took as another mighty challenge worth destroying.
I saw Woods’ first Masters as a pro in 1997, when he opened with a 4-over 40 on the front nine and wound up winning by a record 12 strokes. He set a scoring record at 18 under. His official driving average was 322 yards — 22 years ago — and 25 yards farther than the next best in the field.
Mind-boggling, but the forgiving fairways of Augusta National (unless the wind howls for four days) vs. Pebble Beach set up by the USGA, and blessed with hard greens … that was going to be an immensely different challenge.
The runaway win at the Masters advanced Woods from an object of tremendous curiosity to an immediate superstar. And when he showed up at Pebble Beach 38 months later, he had only the ’99 PGA to go with the Masters on his list of majors. He would have six after the Masters was played in 2001.
The win in the 2000 U.S. Open also was his 13th in his past 24 official PGA Tour events. That’s right — 13-11, a .542 winning percentage in golf. That would make a team a wild-card contender in baseball; this was one golfer taking on fields ranging from 64 players to 156.
One clear moment from that weekend: Tiger was leading by six shots after a weather-delayed second round, and Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn wound up paired with him for the third round.
Once he appeared on the leaderboard, Bjorn was asked in the media tent if there would be an “intimidation’’ factor in going head-to-head with Woods. Bjorn, 30, and a successful player in Europe, assured his audience that would not be the case.
And then, on an extremely difficult and long afternoon, Woods shot an even-par 71 and Bjorn shot an 82. “I knew I was in trouble after a couple of holes,’’ Bjorn would say later.
Actually, Bjorn saw the only moment of hope for the field in that delayed third round: On the par-4 third hole, Woods sent his approach shot into some of the USGA’s deep hay, needed two shots to hack it out, and wound up making a triple-bogey 7.
That wasn’t an opening; it was an aberration. Over the next four holes, Woods made three birdies to get back those strokes, and he finished even-par 71 in a round when only one player — Ernie Els (68) — broke par.
The story this week has been Woods had a close call when caddie Steve Williams failed to check the bag before the delayed second round and started with three balls for the final six holes. Woods was down to one after hooking his drive into Stillwater Cove off the 18th tee, something Williams didn’t dare tell Tiger until six months later.
Here’s the deal: It only would have been a two-stroke penalty if Tiger had to borrow a ball from a playing partner, or for an unwarranted delay if Williams went to retrieve more golf balls.
Thus, Woods’ victory margin would’ve been a record-tying 13, not a record-breaking 15, for a major. And what record did Tiger break for largest margin of victory in those current majors — British Open (first held in 1860), U.S. Open (1895), PGA Championship (1916) and Masters (1934)?
That would be Old Tom Morris’ 13-stroke victory over seven competitors in the 1862 British Open at Prestwick Golf Club in Scotland.
Yup. In the middle of June 2000, Tiger Woods broke a record for margin that had stood since the United States was involved in the Civil War. No athletic achievement to be witnessed has much chance to top that.