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The Woods Trail

What happened to the runners up in Wood's famous triumph at Pebble Beach?

Posted May 15, 2013 by Dermot Gilleece

tiger 4

Last Sunday’s Players victory, prompts the mischievous thought that all would be well with Tiger Woods and his pursuit of the Bear’s record, if only they had granted the Sawgrass event Major status.  As it is, he has secured four tournament victories this season and is still as far adrift from the 18 titles achieved by Jack Nicklaus, as he was almost five years ago.

It was all so different back in 2000 at Pebble Beach, where we witnessed what Tom Watson later described as the greatest golfing achievement of all time.  That was when Woods played a game with which even seasoned observers were not familiar, en route to a stunning, 15-stroke victory in the US Open.  Given that it would be another 10 years before he approached his prime, a new Major record seemed beyond dispute.

But much has happened since 2000, not only to Woods, but to those in his wake on that memorable occasion.  When we remind ourselves that the next six finishers, from second to seventh, were Miguel Angel Jimenez, Ernie Els, John Huston, Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood and Nick Faldo, the point requires no emphasis.

Taking them in order, that particular finish of tied second, was the best in a Major championship by Jimenez, who made his own contribution to golfing history last November when victory in the Hong Kong Open made him the oldest winner of a European Tour event.  He was 48 years and 318 days, beating the previous target set by Des Smyth.

Also joint second was Ernie Els, who seemed certain to make a formidable contribution to the Major roll of honour after his US Open wins of 1994 and 1997.  Admittedly there was still more to come, but not at the pace originally anticipated.  Els captured the Open Championship after a play-off at Muirfield in 2002 and then, very much against the odds, found new confidence with a belly-putter to win the Open again after a dramatic collapse by Adam Scott at Royal Lytham last July.

America’s John Huston was fourth.  Always liable to shoot a low round in a tournament, Huston had a successful career on the PGA Tour before joining senior ranks two years ago.  In five Champions Tour events this season, however, his fortunes have been decidedly moderate, with cumulative earnings of $112,868.

Tied fifth were Padraig Harrington and Lee Westwood.  As it happened, Harrington would make most progress in subsequent Majors, other than Woods.  In fact the Dubliner won twice on the PGA Tour in 2005 and went on to achieve the breakthrough he always believed was possible, when capturing the Open Championship at Carnoustie in 2007, after a play-off with Sergio Garcia.  Harrington then retained the crown the following year at Birkdale, when Woods was an absentee, having undergone surgery to his felt knee after winning the US Open at Torrey Pines in June 2008.  And Woods also missed the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills a few weeks later, when Harrington won again.

Westwood will be remembered for his third-place finish at Torrey Pines.  And he went on to be tied third in the Open the following year.  Indeed a relentless pursuit of Major glory brought him runner-up positions in 2010, both in the US Masters and behind Louis Oosthuizen in the Open Championship at St Andrews.  And he was tied third behind Rory McIlroy in the 2011 US Open at Congressional and tied third behind Bubba Watson in last year’s US Masters.

Faldo, on the other hand, was about to ease himself into the sunset, though one remaining shot at glory came in the 2002 US Open at Bethpage Black.  That was when Woods won again, this time on a long, wet track, and the Englishman shared fifth place with Americans Billy Mayfair and an old rival, Scott Hoch.  Faldo, of course, is currently attempting to knock his game into shape in preparation for a sentimental return to this year’s Open at Muirfield, where he captured the title for the first time in 1987, finishing with 18 straight pars.  He didn’t compete in the last two Opens and prior to that, missed four cuts in a row.

So, with everything that’s happened to those around him, perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised at the swings in Woods’ fortunes since those heady days at Pebble Beach.  Is he now closer to his 15th Major because of what happened last weekend?  Possibly.  But to paraphrase a popular, television advert, it isn’t a Major unless it says so on the tin.

- Dermot Gilleece

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