Tiger’s 40 Biggest Moments: No. 14 – Outdueling Sergio and Phil at 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage

December 17, 2015

Over 40 days, GOLF.com is rolling out Tiger Woods’ 40 biggest moments. Our ranking started on Nov. 21 and will culminate on Dec. 30, which is Tiger’s 40th birthday. That’s 40 Tiger moments. In 40 days. Ranked. Click here to learn more about our list.

Tiger’s 40 Biggest Moments: No. 14 – Outdueling Sergio and Phil at 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage

The brash New York golf fans, watching the first major championship ever played at a course they felt belonged to them — Bethpage State Park’s Black Course — roared for a still major-less Phil Mickelson, hassled Sergio Garcia for his club-waggling and nervous regripping, and were impressed by Tiger Woods.

It wasn’t that Tiger played his best golf at the 2002 United States Open. He didn’t. And that’s why they should have been impressed.

“You could say he won this tournament with his B game,” said Padraig Harrington, who tied for eighth. “If he can win like that, he can probably win the next two.”

Woods was in one of his unstoppable modes, it seemed. He carried a four-stroke lead into the final round, then made three-putt bogeys on the first two holes to give his pursuers a temporary opening. It was a fool’s gold moment, however. Nobody ever got too close, and Woods finished as the only player under par, three shots better than runner-up Phil Mickelson.

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Let’s be honest—he appeared to be playing a different game than the rest. That made it eight major championships by age 26, the fastest anyone has accomplished that. Since he’d already won the Masters, he looked like a good bet to knock down an actual calendar year Grand Slam, as Harrington hinted, since he kicked off 2001 by completing the Tiger Slam (four majors in a row not in the same calendar year) with his second Masters win.

Woods shot a closing 72 on a Bethpage Black course that proved more than tough enough for the world’s best players in its major championship debut, to the delight of the raucous galleries.

”It’s awesome to win the nation’s title, on a public facility, in front of these fans,” Woods said. ”I don’t think anyone appreciates how hard it is to win major championships. This one was hard. I’m going to celebrate.”

Dave Anderson wrote in the New York Times what everyone in golf was considering: “Who dares to think Tiger won’t get the Grand Slam this year?”

Woods steadfastly maintained that a Slam was doable because he’d already done it. “I’ve had all four trophies on my mantel,” he said. “To do it in a calendar year would just be different.”

The Grand Slam got away from Tiger, however, and that turned out to be as big as winning the U.S. Open. But that’s another story.

Check back on GOLF.com every day until Tiger’s birthday on Dec. 30 for a new moment in our TIGER@40 countdown.

No. 15: Seven Straight Tour Wins in 2006-07

No. 16: Hello, World

No. 17: ‘Better Than Most’ at 2001 Players Championship

No. 18: Winning the 2000 British Open at St. Andrews by 8

No. 19: Winning SI Sportsman of the Year in 1996

No. 20: Return from Scandal at 2010 Masters

No. 21: Winning Third Straight U.S. Amateur Title

No. 22: The Apology Press Conference

No. 23: Shot from Fairway Bunker at 2000 Canadian Open

No. 24: Passes Nicklaus in Career PGA Tour Wins

No. 25: Signs First Deal With Nike

No. 26: Knee Surgery After 2008 U.S. Open

No. 27: Winning Back-to-Back Masters

No. 28: Launching the Tiger Woods Foundation

No. 29: Becoming a Father for the First Time

No. 30: Ugly Breakup With Steve Williams

No. 31: First U.S. Amateur Win at TPC Sawgrass

No. 32: Wire-to-Wire British Open Win at St. Andrews in 2005

No. 33: Relationship With Lindsey Vonn

No. 34: Third Straight U.S. Junior Am Title

No. 35: A Shot in the Dark at Firestone

No. 36: Television Debut at Age 2

No. 37: Breakup with Hank Haney After Six Years

No. 38: Disastrous 2004 Ryder Cup Pairing with Phil Mickelson

No. 39: Beats Stephen Ames 9&8 in 2006 Cadillac Match Play

No. 40: Wins 2008 Arnold Palmer Invitational with Dramatic Putt