Terence Smith talks with sports writer John Feinstein and Golf World executive editor Ron Sirak about the latest victory and exceptional career of Tiger Woods.
SPORTSCASTER: There it is! As great as it gets!
TERENCE SMITH: With this birdie putt yesterday, Tiger Woods made history again -- winning the masters and becoming the first player ever to win modern day golf's four major championships in a row.
TIGER WOODS: I've never accomplished anything that would surpass this. It's been quite a day - a long day. It was very tough out there. Going toe-to-toe with David and Phil -that was fun. Lot of fun. Fun to know we had to come out, compete and play well, and we all did, and it was just that I was able to squeak it out at the end.
TERENCE SMITH: Tiger began his string last June, cruising to a 15-stroke win at the U.S. Open. His margin at the next major, the British Open, was eight strokes. But in the PGA Championship, it took a play-off for woods to beat Bob May. And yesterday in Augusta, Georgia, it was another tight finish. All day, Tiger was chased by David Duval, the world's best golfer in 1998 and 1999, and Phil Mickelson, currently number two in the world.
SPORTSCASTER: He's still there.
TERENCE SMITH: But while Tiger stayed steady, Mickelson faltered at 16, and Duval missed at 18.
SPORTSCASTER: Oh, what an opportunity! Oh, my gosh!
TERENCE SMITH: Minutes later, the 25-year-old champion of champions put on the green jacket of a Masters winner for the second time in his short career.
TIGER WOODS: Thank you very much.
TERENCE SMITH: Was it a grand slam, classically defined as all four majors in a single year? Tiger suggested that whatever it is, it's sweet.
TIGER WOODS: You got to have everything kind of go right, and to have it happen four straight times, that's awfully nice.
TERENCE SMITH: For more on Tiger's win, we turn to, John Feinstein, sports writer, commentator and author of the majors: In pursuit of golf's holy grail and to Ron Sirak, executive editor of Golf World, a weekly magazine.
TERENCE SMITH: Gentlemen, welcome to you both. John Feinstein, put this in perspective for us, what the accomplishment is and what it represents.
JOHN FEINSTEIN: Well, it is arguably, I think, the greatest achievement in the history of golf. And to even bring up the question of whether it's a grand slam or not, because it's not -- a grand slam is winning all for majors in the same calendar year. It like saying that Mark McGwire could hit 35 home runs the second half of one season and 36 the first half of the next and that would mean he broke the record of 70 -- but to even bring that up, denigrates what he has done, which I think is the single greatest achievement ever in golf because of the competition in the year 2001, as opposed to 1930 when Bobby Jones won the old Grand Slam, which included two amateur tournaments. And it also doesn't allow it to take its place in the pantheon in the greatest sporting achievements ever, which is where it belongs.
TERENCE SMITH: Ron Sirak, do you agree with that?
RON SIRAK: I agree with that completely. I think sometimes we get a little boo too into wanting to put names and labels on things. It simply is the greatest thing that ever happened in golf, passing also Byron Nelson's 11 consecutive victories and one of the greatest things that's ever happened in sports. And, you know what, if we say it's not a grand slam, then it has to all happen in one calendar year, well, let's throw that out as another challenge for Tiger Woods and let's not be surprised if he meets that challenge too.
TERENCE SMITH: John Feinstein, the final shot, the final putt, for a birdie when he didn't even need it to win, I mean, what did that say to you about Tiger Woods?
JOHN FEINSTEIN: The one thing I will say, Terry, is that if he needed it, he would have made it too, because that's what this kid has been about since he was a teenager. He makes the shots he has to make. That's what he did yesterday. He was not spectacular this week the way he often is. He didn't overpower the Par 5's the way he did in 1997 in Augusta; he didn't make a single eagle on a par 5, which is two under pars as opposed to a birdie, which is one under par. And the exhaustion you saw on his face, when that putt came in, that was like a boxing match out there yesterday between he and Mickelson and Duval -- arguably the three best players in the world over the period of the last two, three, four years. And every punch they threw out at tiger, his head snapped back a couple times, but he never went down.
TERENCE SMITH: Ron Sirak, in addition to the exhaustion and that expression of relief we saw tears -- joy, relief I suppose. What did that tell you about this young man?
RON SIRAK: Well, I think one of the things that sets Tiger apart from everybody else, beyond his incredible shot making skills is his passion for the game. He truly, truly loves what he's doing out there, it means everything to him. Look, he's the first person who was raised to be a professional golfer, who set this agenda at a very, very young age. He's competing not so much against David Duval and Phil Mickelson as he's competing against history. He's got an agenda, he knows what he's after, and each time he accomplishes one of those things he truly appreciates what it means to him. He's got a game plan and he's living it out. And it touches his heart deeply when he succeeds at what he's trying to accomplish.
TERENCE SMITH: I think we could see that. John, he also has a tough streak in him.
JOHN FEINSTEIN: It's a mean streak, and I say that as a compliment. I think the greatest athletes, good, very good, excellent athletes go out there and they want to win, at times they'll do what they have to do. But the truly great ones, Ted Williams, Jack Nicklaus, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, not only are they willing to step on your neck to win, they want to step on your neck. They want to do anything they have to do to humiliate you if necessary in order to win. I remember six years ago when Ben Crenshaw somehow summoned the energy to win one last masters and he beat Davis Love down the stretch by one shot, and it was very dramatic. And I was talking to Davis afterwards and he said, you know, I really wanted to win. But there's a part of me that's happy for Ben. Tiger Woods would never for a second think. That he would never be happy for another golfer to win. He would be devastated that he allowed someone to beat him, regardless of the circumstances. And that's the kind of approach that as Ron said sets him apart.
TERENCE SMITH: Ron, I'm also curious about the poise this young man shows; he's only 25 years old, he has incredible appreciate on him and a unique sort of pressure. Yet look at him.
RON SIRAK: What's absolutely amazing to me is that in an era of hype and exaggeration and where reality frequently falls way short of what our expectation is, he's been better than advertised. And with all that's swirling around him, we asked him after the tournament, all right, now that it's over, tell us with the pressure on you this week, how it felt. He said actually I was quite relaxed. And, coming from almost anybody else, I'm not sure I'd believe it. But he has an ability to focus that is scary. As John was saying, that when he wants to put his foot on your neck, he has that ability to hit his most important shot, his best shot, when it will hurt his opponent the most. It's an incredible sense of timing.
TERENCE SMITH: Is that it, is that what makes him so special and so different, and apart from the others?
JOHN FEINSTEIN: Yeah, I think the fact that he wants those situations. He doesn't shy away from them. Remember one thing that's important, Terry, he's been doing this since he was four. As Ron said he was raised to do this. He made his first television appearance hitting a golf ball at the age of four. And so we talked about he's only, 25 he's been doing it for 21 years. He's been in that pressure cooker, and I think what Ron said about being better than advertised is an important point, because, remember, this guy was on the cover of national magazines the day he turned pro. And came with unbelievable hype to the professional world in 1996 -- won the masters by 12 shots in '97 and we all said well he's living up to it, he's going to challenge Jack Nicklaus, but he's still done more than we expected. I don't think any of us dreamed that we'd be sitting here at any point, much less when he was 25, talking about winning four consecutive majors. Remember one thing. If you win four majors in a career, you're going to the Hall of Fame. This guy has won four in a row. It's mind boggling.
TERENCE SMITH: Ron, you know, he may be, I suppose now, in the eyes of some, the greatest golfer ever. Is he in yours?
RON SIRAK: Well, you know, longevity is one of the definitions of greatness. You've got to do it over a long period of time. Probably the only athlete who got away with a short period of sustained greatness and is considered one of the best ever was Sandy Koufax, a baseball pitcher who had a 6 year run of remarkable play. Certainly he is the best we've seen so far. He does have to pass Jim Nicklaus record of 18 professional majors and 20 total major championships to be considered truly great. Nicklaus did a remarkable thing by winning major championships 24 years apart, that's astounding in any sport. I do think that longevity is one of the definitions of greatness. But what we've seen so far, there's no reason to think that the best isn't yet to come.
TERENCE SMITH: John, I remember a conversation you and I had at this very table after Tiger Woods had had won six straight tournaments.
JOHN FEINSTEIN: Regular tournaments.
TERENCE SMITH: And I said to you, is he the best ever, and you said too early to tell. Well, is he the best ever?
JOHN FEINSTEIN: Well, I think he's had the most dominant period anybody has ever had in golf, over the last two years, not just the four straight majors but he's no now won five out of the last six, and he's been unbelievable for two years. But I think Ron is right. In terms of lifetime achievement, you have to see how it plays out. And if what we're seeing so far is an indication, he's going to become the greatest ever. Golfers usually don't peak until their in they're 30s; he's only 25 and he's already a dynasty.
TERENCE SMITH: That's terrific. John, Ron, thank you both very much.
JOHN FEINSTEIN: Thank you.
RON SIRAK: My pleasure.