Seeing Was Believing: Ten years ago, Tiger Woods dominated the U.S. Open field at Pebble Beach

TREE-MENDOUS: Woods tuned up with a spectacular practice session at Spyglass, then carried that precision over to Pebble for four days.
Robert Beck/SI

Ten years ago, the last time the U.S. Open was played at Pebble Beach, Tiger Woods stayed at the Lodge, in the Sloat wing, just beyond the 18th green. He was a 24-year-old bachelor with a new body (bulked up), a new swing (ruthlessly tight) and the same old attitude (step on their necks). Eighty-eight-year-old Byron Nelson was at Pebble, in part because he wanted to talk to Woods about playing in his tournament, the Byron Nelson Classic. All sorts of people were coming at Woods, wanting him to do this and that. Woods tried to lie low. He wasn’t happy with Pebble’s crowded, chat-heavy driving range. On the Monday before the first round, he did something no other player thought to do, even though the option was listed right there in the fine print of the contestant information packet.

Woods walked up to an assistant at the range at nearby Spyglass Hill.

“Hey,” he said, “can I hit some balls?”

“Sure,” said the assistant, Jin Park. “What do you want?”

Park had a buffet table with buckets representing all the major food groups — Titleist, Precept, Callaway, the whole gang.

“No, that’s O.K.,” Woods said. “I brought my own.” Steve Williams was with him, carrying sacks of balls.

Golfer and caddie set up shop on the range, which was closed to regular customers. Woods started hitting balls on the gently sloping downhill practice field, where the far boundary, 270 or so yards from the tee, is marked not by a fence but by a straight line of Monterey pines, all of them well over 100 feet tall.

Park watched Woods go through his whole bag. With a two-iron, Woods was reaching the pines. With the driver, Woods’s shots were going over them. Park wasn’t awed by Woods’s spectacular length. Park was a long hitter himself. What struck him was the precision and the repetitiveness of his ball flight.

Woods left with a simple, “Thanks, guys.” A kid picking the range came in with the balls Woods had left behind. Park checked them out. “Look at this,” he said to the other golfheads with him. Nike had just entered the ball business, and the souvenirs Woods had left behind were Nike prototypes.

“‘I brought my own’,” Park, now the head pro at Spyglass, said the other day, repeating what Woods had said to him 10 years ago. He’ll never forget it. Six days later Woods won the U.S. Open with his new Nike ball — by 15 shots.

Were you there when Armando Galarraga pitched his nearly perfect game in Detroit last week? Have you ever been at an event where you saw sports history, true sports history? Here’s the test. You can close your eyes and see the highlight reel. You can remember the people you were with, what you said, how the athlete looked, what you were thinking, how things smelled, what you were feeling.

If you witnessed Woods at Pebble Beach at the 2000 U.S. Open, it stayed with you. You can make the case you saw the single most dominating performance in sports history. Not the most emotional. Not the most exciting. Not the most significant. Nope. Simply the most dominating.

The significance of the 2000 Open is rooted in one thing: It shows what a man with a plan can accomplish. Woods didn’t simply out-talent Ernie Els, the runner-up, by 15 shots. He did something else. And that is why Jin Park — among others — will long remember what Woods did that week on those often fog-shrouded links.

Jim Furyk, along with (irony alert) Jesper Parnevik, played the first two rounds of the ’00 Open with Woods. A decade later the thing that stays with Furyk is the pureness of Woods’s putting in those two rounds. “When he had an eight-footer, he knocked it in dead center as if it was a two-footer,” Furyk says. Woods did that on greens that were fast but not smooth, a gruesome combination that required players to hit their putts harder than normal and to use only the front door. The side doors were closed.

Chuck Dunbar, Pebble’s head pro then and now, recalls watching a monster practice session, well over two hours long, that Woods had on Pebble’s practice putting green on the eve of the Open, a session during which Woods decided to raise his hands higher at address and get the toe of the putter out of the air and on the grass. What struck Dunbar was Woods’s singular purpose and distinctive method. Other players were putting and chatting, putting and chatting. “Tiger was putting with a purpose,” Dunbar says. Woods wasn’t doing drills, but he wasn’t simply getting in his reps, either. “He was making every stroke count.” Dunbar still carries around that image of Woods.

Casey Boyns is a Pebble Beach caddie who has logged more than 6,000 rounds on the course. He’s also an excellent amateur golfer. He tried to qualify for the 2000 Open, and when he didn’t get in, he got a job caddying for Charles Warren.

“I feel as if I did a good job reading those greens for him,” Boyns says. “I probably know them as well as anybody. I might get 95 percent of the reads right. But it’s hard. First hole, we had a five-footer for birdie, misread the putt and had a 20-footer for par. Tiger didn’t misread a single putt all week. I’ve been reading those greens all my life. He’s been there now and again. And he read them 100 percent correctly. I mean, come on.” For the four rounds, Woods never missed anything inside eight feet.

“On those greens, you’re putting on poa, bent, fescue, moss, some stuff you can’t even identify,” Boyns says. “There are four shades of green, some purplish grass and some grass that goes light tan when the greens get cooked. There’s grass that lies down and grass that stands up. Plus flecks of sand. And the ball moves differently over all these things. The reason he ran away from the field is because of his putting. Tiger, reading those greens the way he did for four straight days? Tells me he was all there.” Boyns’s distinctive, mellow northern California voice grows with excitement. “One-hundred percent there.”

Boyns is looking to start playing in the U.S. Senior Amateur starting next year. Just talking about Woods’s putting exhibition left him feeling inspired.

Ten years ago Bill Perocchi was the new CEO of the Pebble Beach Company. He was given a job for the week on Woods’s security detail. It was an honorary gig, really. It got him inside the ropes.

“In football you have games where the halftime score is 40-0,” says Perocchi. “The final score in those games is 47-10. There’s a let-up. Tiger’s lead for 36 holes was, what, six shots? And he wins by 15. That’s like the team with the 40-0 halftime score winning 100-0.”

In February 2000 Perocchi had been standing on Pebble’s 18th green with Woods and Clint Eastwood, presenting Woods with the trophy for winning the AT&T National Pro-Am. When offered the trophy, Woods went for the oversized check. The whole thing was playful. Woods was having a good time.

“When I shook his hand on 18 after the Open, it was almost as if I wasn’t there,” Perocchi says. “It was like it wasn’t over, like he hadn’t come down. He never let up. There have been times, in business meetings and things, that I’ve talked about what I saw that week.” What he saw was four days of unabated excellence.

And a few other things. Woods is not a robot. He had to finish his third round on Saturday morning. He was on the 18th tee at 8:02 a.m. when he hooked his drive into the Pacific. Woods responded to the off-line shot with, “Goddam you, f—— prick!” It was 11:02 on the East Coast, prime cartoon-watching time, except NBC wasn’t showing cartoons. It was showing live golf. In his broadcast booth on 18, Johnny Miller looked stricken. On air, he said, “Whoa! That made my commentary look pretty mild.”

On Sunday night, when it was all over, Woods told a roomful of reporters, “There comes a point when you feel tranquil, when you feel calm, you feel at ease with yourself.” He was describing his U.S. Open week in 2000 as well as Masters week 1997.

Trey Holland is a former USGA president. He was the rules official in Woods’s group in the third and fourth rounds. On the 1st tee, before both rounds, he saw something that has stayed with him. It was Woods staring down the fairway, hand on a headcover, still and silent, as if in a trance. For Holland, it was an awesome sight, part of an awesome week.

But now when he considers the ’00 Open, competing thoughts come to mind. There’s Woods’s 1st-tee trance but also his 18th-tee hissy fit. There’s the pressroom discussion of tranquillity but also Woods’s giving Holland the needle for not granting him embedded ball relief on the 3rd hole in the third round. Plus everything Holland has learned about Woods since Thanksgiving.

“There’s still awe for what he did,” Holland says, “but a little less awe for the golfer who did it. It’s quite an accomplishment, to blow away a field like that. But golf is more than that.”

Holland is glad the Open is returning to Pebble. He’s glad Woods will have another crack at it there. He wishes Byron Nelson — Lord Byron — were still around, and that he and Woods would have the chance to chat. Not about the Byron Nelson Classic, but other things, golf among them.