It's well documented that Tiger Woods hasn't played in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in a decade, and he won it just once in 2000, his lone victory in six tries between 1997 and 2002.
Strangely, Woods' 2000 AT&T victory hasn't stood the test of time very well--and there are reasons for that--but that's an injustice in golf history. Even if the memory of it is now largely hazy, it still stands as one of the most amazing and electrifying victories among Tiger's 71 PGA Tour wins.
It merits review, if for no other reason than because there is so much speculation about whether the Woods who is making his grand return this week can once again approach the young man who staged such a phenomenal show 12 years ago.
The 36-year-old Woods will return to the Monterey Peninsula still looking for his first official PGA Tour victory in more than two years, and while his health and his game definitely appear to be on the upswing as he launches a concerted 2012 comeback season, it remains to be seen if the all-things-are-possible Tiger from that February week in 2000 will show up.
Even though the best was still yet to come later in that year, Tiger arrived at Pebble Beach in 2000 already on top of the world. Just 24, Woods was in quest of his sixth straight tour triumph extending back to the 1999 season. No one had won six straight events since Ben Hogan in 1948, a streak second only to Byron Nelson's 11 straight wins in 1945.
Woods enjoyed a strong tournament the first three days, but he looked to be out of the running on the final day when he still trailed tour rookie Matt Gogel by seven shots with Gogel just nine holes away from victory.
Gogel was cruising. Through his first nine holes at Pebble Beach Golf Links, he hit every fairway and green in regulation and made five birdies, and as he said that day, "It was as good as I think I have ever played for nine holes of golf."
Everybody was conceding Gogel his first tour win--everybody but Tiger, that is. Woods was on the par-5 15th hole when Gogel provided a first window of opportunity by bogeying Nos. 11 and 12. Believing he finally had a chance but feeling he'd have to birdie the final four holes just to get into a playoff, Tiger went for it.
Oh boy, did he ever.
On the 15th, Woods holed his approach from 97 yards for eagle. On the par-4 16th, after a monster drive, he nearly holed out again but birdied from 2 feet nonetheless. After a par on the 17th, Woods closed out his 64 -- the round he predicted he'd have to shoot to win--with two perfect shots to the 18th green's front edge, a chip to 5 feet and a dead-center putt for another birdie.
No less a figure than Peter Ueberroth, owner and co-chairman of the Pebble Beach Company who had also served as U.S. Olympic Committee president and commissioner of Major League Baseball, called Woods' ball-striking down the stretch the most dumbfounding thing he'd ever witnessed in sports. And as he made a point of noting, he witnessed Bill Buckner's boot in the 1986 World Series.
Ueberroth played in Woods' group that day with playing partner Jim Furyk, so he had as close a view as anyone of Tiger at a time when Woods seemed capable of anything with a golf club in his hands. Even with the pressure of the streak and facing a virtually hopeless situation, Woods shot 31 on the back nine while Gogel limped home with a 40
"After awhile you're believing he (Woods) can hole them all," Ueberroth said afterward. "He changes your whole perspective on the game. I parred 16 and 17, and they felt like triple bogeys."
In retrospect, it's important to note Ueberroth's perspective on Woods' charge that day hasn't changed much. In 2010, in a Q&A with CNN Money, he was still recalling it as his most memorable day on a golf course.
So why is Woods' AT&T performance in 2000 so little remembered? For starters, the final round was played on a Monday that year due to a weekend rainout day. Galleries were ultra-sparse--even Tiger's--and to make matters worse, CBS tape-delayed its telecast on the West Coast because it didn't want to preempt its popular weekday soap operas "As The World Turns" and "Guiding Light." Hence, very few people saw the finish live, either in person or on TV.
Another factor was that the victory was muted in the scope of Woods' full 2000 campaign, almost certainly his most incredible year of many in golf. He won nine tournaments that year and three majors--including the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in June by a record 15 strokes--en route to an eventual "Tiger Slam" with his 2001 Masters victory.
Woods, so accustomed to winning back then, treated his AT&T win as just another good day at the office. In a curious aftermath, Gogel would atone for his collapse two years later by winning the AT&T in Tiger's last appearance (Woods tied for 13th). But it turned out to be Gogel's only tour title. Now 40, he retired from the game in 2006 after struggling to keep his tour card and went to work for The Golf Channel.
If nothing else, at least Woods has a chance to recapture his magic of 2000.
--The AT&T may have lost Tom Brady on its celebrity entry list but has gained two more football luminaries in addition to 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh--NFL MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers and Nick Saban, coach of national champion Alabama. Basketball Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler is also a late entry in the amateur field. Pairings will be announced Tuesday.
--With the exception of Tuesday, which is calling for a 90 percent chance of rain, there's a good long-range weather forecast for tournament week. No rain is expected Thursday through Saturday with a mere 20 percent chance Sunday. Temperatures are forecast to be in the high 50s/low 60s.