“We have witnessed the greatest golfing feat of our time,” Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson said on April 8, 2001. Tiger Woods, aged just 25, had just won his second Masters title and now held all four major championships at the same time after winning the US Open, The Open and the US PGA Championship the previous season.
His four in a row became known as the ‘Tiger Slam’ as, technically, a Grand Slam would be winning all four majors in the same season. But let’s not quibble about dates. Holding all four at the same time is just as astonishing. Combining all four majors across 294 days, Tiger finished 26 shots ahead of the field on an incredible 65 under par.
So, how did he do it, and does any other golfer come close to this achievement?
Tiger began his slam bid at Pebble Beach by winning his first US Open title – and he did so in extraordinary fashion. He finished 15 strokes ahead of Ernie Els and Miguel Angel Jimenez, still a record margin at any major championship. Tiger made nine consecutive pars on the final day before birdies at 10, 12, 13 and 14 secured a bogey-free 67. At 12-under, he was the only player to finish at even par or better and became the first player in the history of the notoriously punishing US Open to finish at double-digits under par.
Tiger won his first Open Championship and fourth major title at St Andrews, finishing eight strokes ahead of Thomas Bjorn and Ernie Els. Woods had now become the youngest ever player to win all four major championships, beating Jack Nicklaus by two years. Finishing at 19-under, he also achieved the lowest 72-hole score in relation to par at any major in history, a record he held until Jason Day finished on 20-under par at the PGA Championship in 2015.
Tiger won his second straight PGA Championship and third major in a row at Valhalla Golf Club after a three-hole pay-off against Bob May. The two players had finished 72 holes on 18-under, five shots ahead of Thomas Bjorn, and a new PGA Championship record, equalled by Tiger in 2006. After May sank a 15-footer on the final green, Tiger followed suit with a five-foot pressure putt to force the play-off. Tiger birdied the first play-off hole and parred the next two to win the three-hole play-off by one shot.
The pressure on Tiger to win all four majors in a row was immense after finishing the third round at the top of the leaderboard on 12-under, one stroke ahead of Phil Mickelson. Tiger would shoot a third consecutive 68 in the final round to finish on 16-under, while Phil fell away with a 70. David Duval’s 67 equalled the best score of the day, but missing a birdie on the last meant Tiger only needed to par the same hole. But in typical Tiger fashion, he birdied it and took the Green Jacket by two strokes.
In the modern era, Tiger’s four in a row is unequalled. While the debate rages on as to who the greatest ever player is, Jack Nicklaus with 18 majors or Tiger with 15, not even the Golden Bear held all four at the same time.
Jack won the PGA in 1971, which had been pushed back to February, and then in 1972 won the Masters and US Opens. He just needed to win the Open that year to hold all four majors at the same time, but he finished agonisingly one shot behind Lee Trevino. So close, but the most majors Jack ever won in a row was two.
In the history of golf, only one player has won a grand slam of all four majors in the same season, and you would have to go back 90 years before the Masters existed. Before the creation of The Masters, the US and British Amateur Championships were considered major championships. A golf Grand Slam in those days meant consecutive victories at the US Amateur, British Amateur, US Open and The Open. The great Bobby Jones incredibly won all four in 1930. But in the totally professional era, Tiger remains out on his own.
In 1953 Ben Hogan won the Masters, US Open, and Open Championship, but he was unable to win the PGA Championship as it clashed with The Open. What might have been?! But Hogan remains the only player to have won the Masters, US Open and Open Championship in the same calendar year.
In 2015, Jordan Spieth won the Masters and US Open, finished T-4 at The Open and runner-up at the PGA. In 2019, Brooks Koepka finished T-2 at the Masters, won the PGA, got runner-up at the US Open and finished T-4 at The Open. This was after winning both the US Open and PGA in 2018.
Current world number one Rory McIlroy’s best year came in 2014 when he won The Open and PGA, and finished T-8 at The Masters and T-23 at the US Open.
It might be a long time before Tiger’s incredible achievement is equalled.