A decade ago, Tiger Woods put on what is universally regarded as the most dominant performance in the history of the U.S. Open. It's hardly hyperbole, in fact, to go beyond calling it the most commanding one man has been in a golf tournament and to rank it as sport's most dominant individual showing in a championship of any sort.
Trivia questionIf Phil Mickelson wins this week, he would be the first player to win his first U.S. Open after turning 40 since Tom Kite did so in 1992. Can you name the other two golfers since World War II to do this? (Answer below.)
It's one of those quintessential sports bar topics about which your local brew enthusiast/sports historian would love to debate anyone within earshot. Steve Young's six-touchdown performance in Super Bowl XXIX comes to mind as a strong nominee. How about Rafael Nadal's torching of Roger Federer at the 2008 French Open: 6-1, 6-3, 6-0, with a mere seven unforced errors? Bill Walton hit 21 of 22 shots from the field in the 1973 men's NCAA basketball championship. And in the spirit of another international sports championship that is captivating the entire planet right now, Zinedine Zidane deserves mention for his scoring France's first two goals in a victory over Brazil in the 1998 World Cup final.
With some perspective from those incredible championship performances, I submit some of the mind-boggling facts regarding Woods' epic cruise through Pebble Beach in 2000:
• Woods won the 2000 U.S. Open by 15 shots, the largest margin of victory ever in a major. The combined margin of victory for the seven other men to win the event since then: 12 strokes.
• No one else since 2000 has won a U.S. Open by more that 3 strokes. The largest margin of victory in any major since then for a player not named Woods is 4 strokes, by Padraig Harrington at the 2008 PGA Championship.
• In 2000, Woods led the field in driving distance, greens in regulation, birdies, par-3 scoring and par-4 scoring.
• Woods hit 51 of 72 greens in regulation that week. The field averaged 35.
• Woods finished with 21 birdies. The field averaged five.
• Woods led the tournament wire-to-wire, with no ties. He was the first man since Tony Jacklin in 1970 to do that at a U.S. Open, and no other man has done it since. (Woods pulled off the feat again in 2002 at Bethpage.)
• Tiger's score of 12-under is the most shots under par for any player in U.S. Open history. The next-closest? Jim Furyk at 8-under in 2003.
• Tiger was the only player in the field who scored under par for the tournament. The two men who finished T-2: Ernie Els and Miguel Angel Jimenez (3-over).
Seven majors have passed since Woods last won one, the 14th of his career. Granted, he didn't even participate in two of those tournaments, and he played the Masters this April without the benefit of a single tune-up event -- but the drought is worth noting. Only once in his career has Woods failed to finish in the top three in each of his first five PGA Tour events of the season, in 2001. If Woods doesn't finish among the top three this week, it'll mark the second time.
Ian Barker at the European Tour submitted the following scenarios in which Masters champion Phil Mickelson can become the world's top-ranked player this weekend at Pebble:
• If Mickelson wins the tournament, it won't matter where Woods finishes. Phil is No. 1.
• If Mickelson finishes alone in second place and Woods finishes outside the top four.
• If Mickelson finishes alone in third place and Woods finishes outside the top 18.
• If Woods misses the cut this week, Mickelson needs to finish T-3 or better to earn the No. 1 spot.
Mickelson turns 40 on Wednesday. Should Phil win, he would be the first player to win his first U.S. Open after turning 40 since Tom Kite did it in 1992. A possible omen? The 1992 U.S. Open was also held at Pebble Beach. Mickelson already holds the distinction of owning the most second-place U.S. Open finishes, with 5 (you may remember a few of those -- they tend to be memorable performances). He's in good company with the men who finished runner-up four times: Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead and Bobby Jones.
The last time the Masters champion went on to win the U.S. Open in the same year was -- guess who? -- Woods in 2002. Only five different players have won both tournaments in the same calendar year: Tiger in 2002, Nicklaus, Palmer, Craig Wood and Ben Hogan (who did it twice). Only 15 different players have won both in any given year.
The last three Masters winners have finished like so in the season's second major: T-45, T-65, T-54. Still, success isn't unprecedented for Phil on this epic course -- he has won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am three times: 1998, 2005 and 2007.
In 2000, the USGA's layout at Pebble stretched 6,846 yards. Its longest par 4 was No. 2, playing to 484 yards. This year's version is longer -- a 7,040-yard par 71 -- and features a pair of 500-yard par 5s. The second hole is now 18 yards longer than it was a decade ago, and the ninth hole is a staggering 39 yards longer, up from 466 to 505. How kind of the USGA and the folks in charge at Pebble: The ninth was only the toughest hole on the course last time around, playing to a scoring average of 4.556.
Question: If Phil Mickelson wins this week, he would be the first player to win his first U.S. Open after turning 40 since Tom Kite did so in 1992. Can you name the other two golfers since World War II to do this?
Answer: Ray Floyd (1986) and Tommy Bolt (1958).
To the shock of no one, only two holes played below par in 2000: No. 4 and No. 6. On the other side of the spectrum, four holes played to +0.4 shots over par or higher for the week. Leave it to the warm-and-fuzzy USGA to make three of those holes longer for the 2010 Open. In addition to No. 9, No. 8 and No. 17 are also longer among those four toughest holes from 2000.
One of the reasons Tiger seemed to lap the field several times in 2000: He was the only player to finish 2-over or better in the tournament. Per the norm at the U.S. Open, we again could see some big black numbers at Pebble Beach.
Justin Ray has been a studio researcher for ESPN since June 2008 and is the lead researcher for "The Scott Van Pelt Show." He is a 2007 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, where he studied convergence media. Send comments and suggestions to Justin.Ray@espn.com.