Tiger Woods: Analyzing Golf Legend's Top 10 Greatest US Open Moments Ever

Kevin CaseyContributor IJune 12, 2012

Tiger Woods: Analyzing Golf Legend's Top 10 Greatest US Open Moments Ever

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    Early on in Tiger Woods' career, many doubted that he could ever win an Open.

    He couldn't drive it accurately enough, they said. He couldn't win an Open from that thick, brutal rough.

    Well, 15 years and three U.S. Open titles later and it seems that Woods sure proved his detractors wrong.

    He has played the Open as well as any other major and has a number of wonderful moments from which to remember his time playing the year's second major.

    However, which of these Open moments are his best? What constitutes a moment anyway?

    At the very least, here are his top 10 U.S. Open moments. Whether it be a shot, a day or an entire tournament, these are the moments that, above all, Woods will likely remember the most.

    We'll wait and see if he can add one to the list this week at Olympic, but for now these are the 10 best of Tiger at his national open.

10. A Torrid Start at Oakland Hills

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    Woods started his U.S. Open career inauspiciously with a withdrawal in his first go round in 1995.

    In his second Open though, things were looking much better. The two-time U.S. Amateur champion flew out of the gates at Oakland Hills, finding birdies aplenty even on a course known as "the Monster".

    Everything was going his way on day one, he holed an 80-yard wedge shot for birdie early in the round when his ball took one hop and flew straight into the cup, and he was tied for the lead at three under par through 13 holes.

    Unfortunately the last five holes hit Woods like a hurricane, handing him three bogeys, a double bogey and a quadruple bogey on his way to a disappointing 76.

    Woods would eventually tie for 82nd.

    Still, despite his quite precipitous fall, Woods' fast start at Oakland Hills was a memory to be cherished.

    Not many amateurs can say that they lead the U.S. Open at one point, so it was indeed a day to remember for Woods.

9. A Lone Bright Spot at Shinnecock

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    At Shinnecock Hills in 2004, Woods simply didn't have his game.

    He couldn't hit enough fairways, find enough greens or drop enough putts to ever seriously contend. 

    Even in misery though, Woods found a way to have some fun.

    Heading to the 18th tee on Saturday at five-over-par for the round and well off the lead, Woods set about to finish his horrid day. A massive drive left him only 95 yards to the hole and in prime position to end with a birdie.

    Woods did one better though. The ball flew right at the flag, hopped twice and spun back into the center of the cup for an eagle two.

    Woods could only scratch his head and smile in disbelief as he finally caught a break. In a light-hearted gesture, caddy Steve Williams gave Woods his golf bag to carry up the 18th fairway as his third round came to a close.

    The 2004 Open at Shinnecock was overall a brutal setup that got few smiles from the players who had to compete on the baked out track.

    But at least for a moment, Tiger Woods had a laugh. Even if the other 71 holes were hell, that one shot was enough to make that Open the least bit enjoyable.

8. A Johnny Miller-Esque Round at Oakmont Minus the Putting Touch

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    Over the first two days of the 2007 edition of the Open at Oakmont, Woods played decent golf but wasn't quite a serious threat to win.

    Saturday would be different though.

    From the first tee Woods was in form, striking his ball right down the fairway and hitting an iron right on the green for an easy, stress-free par.

    This simple but effective game plan would continue as Woods found the putting surface time after time with little difficulty on what was supposed to be a brutally difficult Oakmont course.

    At some point, it seemed, Woods would have to slow down and make some mistakes, but by the time he reached the 18th tee Saturday, he still hadn't missed a green!

    Woods failed to match Johnny Miller's 18/18 GIR performance during the final round of the 1973 Open at Oakmont when he missed the putting surface on the 18th that Saturday, but it was an unbelievable ball-striking performance nonetheless. 

    However, with this brilliance came frustration. Woods recorded just two birdies and shot 69 on a day when he had a birdie try on every hole but one.

    His putter simply wouldn't cooperate, as he missed a number of great chances under 15 feet and hit a lot of lips in the process. Having 35 putts in one round is astounding for a pro (even if he hit 17 greens), and with a few less swipes of the flatstick, Woods' round could've been really special.

    Still, it was a day to remember. Possibly from tee-to-green Woods' best round ever, this was not a day he would soon forget.

    On everywhere but the green that day, he brought mighty Oakmont to its knees.

7. A Final-Round Charge at Pinehurst, Edition II

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    At the first major championship of 2005, the Masters, Woods won his first major title in almost three years.

    At the U.S. Open that June, he tried to build on that Masters win to grab the second leg of the Grand Slam and his 10th career major title.

    The 29-year-old started the final round six shots off the pace, but as leader Retief Goosen collapsed to a Sunday 81, the door opened for the field.

    Woods and Michael Campbell took advantage and they staged a great battle to the finish.

    After a rocky one-over-par 36 on the front nine, Woods charged home to the finish.

    Birdies on 10 and 11 creeped him ever closer to Campbell and when Woods stuffed his tee shot on 15 and made the resulting five-footer for birdie, he got to within one of Campbell's lead.

    That's when Woods' putter (his bugaboo for that whole week) failed him. A missed eight-footer for par on 16 and a three-putt from 15 feet for bogey on 17 all but sealed Woods' fate.

    Campbell picked up the U.S. Open trophy hours later, denying Woods his 10th major title.

    Although it was a tough finish for Woods, he had dealt with disappointment before at Pinehurst. Six years before in the course's first ever U.S. Open, Woods made an even more spirited charge only to fall flat.

6. A Final-Round Charge at Pinehurst, Edition I

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    After winning the 1997 Masters, the young phenom Woods was expected to add a whole bunch of majors to his record.

    But good things take time, and with a revamped swing, Woods struggled to find dominant form in the following years.

    It was all coming together in 1999 though, and with a spot near the top of the leader board Sunday at the U.S. Open that year, it was Woods' best chance yet to secure a second major championship title.

    A victory looked even more imminent as he approached the back half of his final nine.

    On 14 he made a double-breaking 30-footer for birdie that almost brought him to his knees before it snuck into the right side of the cup.

    Two holes later, Woods was still two back and was faced with one of the toughest approach shots on the golf course.

    A four-iron in hand and 210 yards from the flag, Woods took on the challenge, putting the ball pin-high and just 12 feet from a birdie that would get him within one of the lead.

    With the excitement building, Woods stroked the ball. It started out to the right but hooked toward the cup, and when it fell Woods unleashed a forceful uppercut.

    Just one back with two holes to go, Woods had his chance at an Open.

    Unfortunately, he ran out of gas.

    He pulled his tee shot on 17 into the left greenside bunker, blasted out to four feet and missed the tickler for par. When his birdie try on 18 agonizingly slid by the left lip, his challenge was officially over.

    Despite the disappointment though, it was an exciting day. Woods contended hard for a major and fell just short. He would find a major victory just two months later and his first Open title the very next year.

5. Tiger Seals the Win at Bethpage

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    Fifth?? How could one of Woods' U.S. Open victories be fifth on this list you ask?

    Well, while a great accomplishment and a satisfying victory, it was rather boring. The man seeking his eighth career major title pretty much had it in his hands from the start, firing opening rounds of 67 and 68 to carry a three-stroke lead into the weekend.

    Early third-round stumbles didn't deter him either, as two early bogeys were mitigated by two late birdies that stretched his lead to five going into Sunday.

    Matters did get a bit interesting on the final day when Woods bogeyed one and two to give hope to his chasers. He was still holding onto a two-shot lead as he prepared to hit his second on the the par-five 13th.

    The tournament was still under his control but with a birdie here he could basically secure his second U.S. Open title.

    In a tournament largely devoid of drama, this was a moment that actually had some.

    Woods, 263 yards away from the hole, took his two-iron out hoping to give himself some sort of eagle try. With that patented Tiger power, Woods smoked the ball off the clubface, giving it an intense stare down as it flew toward the green.

    The ball landed 25 feet below the pin, gave Woods an easy two-putt birdie and allowed him the cushion he needed to cruise home to victory.

    Overall, Woods' second U.S. Open was by far his most boring. It was still a seminal moment nonetheless and the way he closed the door on his competition was classic Tiger in his prime.

4. A Good Slice

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    When Woods puts four good rounds together he can blow away the field, but even when he can only produce flashes, he mesmerizes us all.

    Such was the case at the 2003 U.S. Open at Olympia Fields, where his game soured for most of the week.

    On Friday though he produced a stellar round of 66 and a shot for the ages on the sixth hole.

    After a less-than-ideal drive, Woods left himself in a tough position for his second to the par-five. With 247 yards to the flag, he had the power to easily reach the green in two knocks, but there was one problem.

    Large, low-hanging branches 50 yards in front of him stood directly in his path to the green.

    A lay-up looked the likely choice, but Woods got creative.

    With a three-wood in hand, Woods decided to go for a huge cut in order to circumvent those branches and turn it right onto the green.

    It sounded simple enough, but it was in fact an incredibly tough shot to execute.

    Woods took on the challenge. With a massive swipe, he arced the ball around the branches and looked intently as it got up in the air. As the ball flew, NBC analyst Roger Maltbie commented "That's not a cut, that's a slice."

    The rare intentional slice worked to perfection, as the ball landed on the green and rolled just 15 feet away for eagle.

    The execution of the shot was incredible. Not only did he move the ball from left-to-right a full 50 yards but he also got it to land softly enough to hold the green with a wood in his hand. Also, how did he have such good distance control on a sliced three-wood.

    This was quite possibly one of Woods' five best shots ever in a U.S. Open. The rest of the tournament is something he might want to forget, but with one of the world's only intentional slices, Woods made at least one masterpiece that week.

3. Saturday Back-Nine Roar at Pebble

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    In a year marred by the collapse of his marital (and personal) life, Woods found something to cheer for at Pebble Beach.

    Returning to the site of his most dominating victory ever a decade before, Woods didn't rekindle the magic right away.

    He had struggled mightily on the course in recent times and with a mediocre opening two days, he wasn't in contention for the title.

    Two early bogeys Saturday seemed to spell the end for Woods' hopes, but then something clicked. He would fight his way back to play the front nine at level par and headed to the back half with confidence.

    There, he went on a birdie barrage.

    First came a big bending 10-footer on 11 that just died into the cup for a birdie three.

    On 13, Woods implored his approach shot to be the right club, and it was. The ball came to rest eight from the cup, and when Woods drained the putt he picked up his second birdie in three holes.

    Three holes later, Woods got his charge really going. He hit a stellar approach to 10 feet, and despite leaving himself a slick, hard-breaking left-to-righter, Woods hit a perfect putt and gave a huge fist pump when his ball dropped in the cup for birdie.

    The fun wasn't over yet. Woods left himself a 15-footer on 17 that broke a good four feet to the left, an unlikely putt to be made on any day. Woods was on fire though and drained the large curling putt.

    Four birdies still wasn't enough. After hitting his tee shot under a tree on 18, Woods went for a daring shot. In order to reach the green in two on the par-five, he would have to play a big cut that would start his ball out over the ocean and move it back toward the putting surface.

    This was Woods' day, and with a pure three-wood strike, his ball took the left-to-right fade, scooted up to the green and finished within 20 feet of the cup. A two-putt from there completed a five-under-par 31 on a nine-hole stretch where nobody was breaking par.

    It took Woods a little bit longer to return to winning form, but on this day he showed flashes of his old self.

2. A Performance for the Ages

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    As I mentioned in the opening slide, many once believed that Woods would never get a U.S. Open trophy.

    That was still a prevailing thought going into the 2000 edition of the tournament at Pebble Beach, and boy would that illusion be shattered.

    It started on the first day. Woods made six birdies and not a single bogey en route to an opening round 65 and a one-shot lead.

    On day two he continued to excel, recording four birdies against two bogeys in his first 11 holes to move two ahead of the field.

    Fog delays had meant round two would be finished on Saturday. So, Woods stood over his 35-footer for birdie on 12 knowing the statement he could make going into the weekend.

    He seized the moment, drilling the putt to move to nine under par and three ahead of the pack.

    The lead would swell to astronomical proportions from there. After nailing a 30-foot birdie putt on the second hole of his third round (his 20th one-putt in his first 38 holes), Woods' lead had stretched to seven. And by the end of the third round it had turned into 10.

    Going into Sunday with seemingly little to play for, Woods fought as if his lead was in jeopardy. Birdies at 10, 12, 13 and 14 upped his lead to 13 and put him on the brink of breaking Old Tom Morris' centuries old record victory margin of the same number.

    Woods had a different aim though: making no bogeys. When he curled in a 15-footer for par on 16 to preserve his bogey-free round, he reacted as if his lead was one.

    Two pars later, and Woods had his U.S. Open title, a 15-shot romp that left his fellow competitors flabbergasted. That week, he was the best driver, best ball-striker, best chipper and best putter in a performance that is unlikely ever to be matched.

    Still, even this much dominance was not enough to top Woods' effort at Torrey Pines eight years later.

1. Tiger's Wild Week at Torrey

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    As impressive as Woods' win at Pebble was, this one may have been better.

    Consider the circumstances. Woods hadn't played since the Masters and although his left knee problems were common knowledge, few knew the extent of his injuries.

    In fact, Woods was playing with a torn left ACL and two stress fractures in his left leg, a disastrous combo that left the ailing 32-year-old unable to walk even one 18-hole round between the Masters and Open and produced a number of moments during the Open where he writhed in pain after a swing.

    This was apparent in the opening 27 holes of the tournament, where he struggled to a three-over-par score and a spot far off the lead.

    But what happened next was magical. On the brink of defeat, Woods brought out his best, making four long birdie putts on the first five holes of his back nine Friday and capping off his day with yet another birdie at the closing hole to play the incoming half in just 30 strokes

    The excitement really kicked up on Saturday. On that day, Woods struggled to a three-over par round through 12 holes and after a drive on 13 that went miles right, no comeback looked imminent.

    Johnny Miller thought otherwise, mentioning the possible ramifications on the championship if Woods could somehow make eagle on the hole. Woods made Miller look clairvoyant, as he found the back of the green in two, holed a slick, bending 65-footer for eagle and gained the momentum he needed.

    A lucky hole-out birdie pitch ensued on 17 and with three fantastic shots on 18, Woods secured a second eagle in six holes and, shockingly, the outright lead going into Sunday.

    He had his fair share of struggles in the final round (including one point on the second tee box where it looked like his pain was too severe to continue) but just 12 feet lay between Woods and playoff on the 72nd green.

    A hard breaker to the left, the ball just snuck in on the right side and elicited a massive celebration as Woods had new life.

    It would take 19 holes the following day for Woods to stave off a spirited Rocco Mediate, but he got it done.

    It was an awesome feat, and only pales in comparison to Hogan's comeback from near death to win the 1950 Open.

    For a man who couldn't walk 18 holes before the tournament, playing 91 holes over five days better than everyone else is an accomplishment that won't soon be matched.