Tiger Woods at the PGA Championship
Credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The 2000 PGA Championship was the exclamation point at the end of golf’s greatest season. After winning the U.S. Open and the Open by a combined 23 strokes, Tiger Woods needed extra holes at Valhalla Golf Club to edge Bob May and become the first to hoist the Wanamaker Trophy in consecutive years since Denny Shute in 1937, joining Ben Hogan as the only men to win three pro majors in a season.

Twenty years later, the brilliance of what transpired in the shadows of the iconic spires at Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, lives on like the Norse legend of Valhalla, the Hall of the Gods for which the course takes its name. Only this wasn’t legend – it was real and it was unforgettable.

To put it in horse racing terms, in winning the U.S. Open by 15 strokes and the Open by eight, Woods was like Secretariat in 1973, who capped the Triple Crown with a 31-length victory in the Belmont Stakes.

But in completing his triple at the PGA, Woods found May more like Alydar to Affirmed in 1978. Alydar was second all three times in the Triple Crown races to Affirmed, each by the closest of margins. Like Alydar, May gave Woods all he could handle but came up just short.

In a year when Woods played the best golf of a career in which he has won 82 PGA Tour events, tying Sam Snead, and 15 majors, trailing Jack Nicklaus by three, Tiger’s most impressive effort might be in that one major he survived rather than dominated. At Valhalla, Tiger was both human and superhuman.

When Tiger strode into Louisville that hot, humid week in late August, he had already won six times in 2000 and was the prohibitive favorite. But, as the PGA has done for Woods several times, he was served up a surprise. May was on no one’s list of contenders.

But Woods had been down that road before and would travel it again later. In the 1999 PGA at Medinah CC, he held off 19-year-old Sergio Garcia to win his first PGA Championships. In 2002, Tiger was second at Hazeltine to Rich Beem and at the same venue in 2009 he was second again, this time to Y.E. Yang. Both were stunning upsets.

At Valhalla, the 24-year-old Woods handled the field with the same ease he’d shown at Pebble Beach and St. Andrews – all except for May. The 31-year-old former junior golf sensation from Woods neck of the woods in Southern California who had yet to win on the PGA Tour would not back down.

The two produced one of the most dramatic finishes in the history of major championship golf, finishing 72 holes at 18-under-par 270, five strokes clear of third place finisher Thomas Bjorn. For Woods, it meant he held the scoring record in all four majors and had won three majors by a record score in nine weeks. Only this time he had company on the ride in the person of May.

Woods and May tussled for 21 holes that Sunday and combined to make 15 birdies. Woods, who shot 67, birdied seven of the last 12 holes of regulation and the first hole of the playoff. May, who posted his third consecutive 66, matched Woods’ 31 on the closing nine.

Playing in the last group with May, Woods started the final round with a one-stroke lead over May and Scott Dunlap, who faded early. Woods made two bogeys in the first six holes while May carded two birdies and a bogey to grab a two-stroke lead. That’s when the fireworks began.

Tiger made birdies on Nos. 7 and 8 and the two were tied going to the back nine, where they put on a display of golf worthy of a place in the Hall of the Gods. The contest had now taken on the character of the PGA from 1916 through 1957 when it was match play.

Both birdied No. 10, then May birdied No. 11 to go one up. The pair tied the 12th hole with birdies, the 13th with pars and the 14th with birdies. A crucial moment came on No. 15.

Ahead by one, May hit second shot on the par-4 to 6 feet. Woods missed the green and could chip only to 15 feet from a challenging lie. If Woods missed and May made, the contest would be all but over.

But Woods holed his par putt, making May’s six-footer suddenly feel much longer. He winced as the ball took a look at the hole but stayed out.

“The one shot that meant the most to me, with everything going on, was the putt on 15,” Woods said. “If I miss and he makes, he’s three up with three to go, and I’m not looking very good. To step up there and make a 15-footer with everything on the line – that’s a big putt.’”

They tied No. 16 with pars and Woods drew even on No. 17 with yet another birdie. Both reached the green in two on the 542-yard, uphill par-5 closing hole. May went first from 70 feet and blew his putt 15 feet past.

When Woods lagged to within six feet, it looked like the magic might have run out for May.

But he had one more trick up his sleeve and rolled in his birdie, meaning Woods now had a ticklish six-foot, downhill putt not to win but just to get into a playoff.  As he has so many times, Woods made it.

“That’s why he’s Tiger Woods,” May said.

They went back to No. 16 to begin the first use of the three-hole, aggregate-score playoff in the PGA Championship. And the new format could not have made a more memorable debut.

With May scrambling to save par on the first playoff hole, Woods had a 20-foot birdie putt. His confident stroke sent the ball rolling and as it neared the hole Woods started after it in a jaunty stride, pointing his index finger as if to command, “Don’t you dare miss.”

That gave Woods his first lead since the second hole and when both made pars on the next two holes it gave him his second of four Wanamaker Trophies.

“This was one memorable battle,” Woods said. “It was a very special day to have two guys competing at a level you don’t see unless you have the concentration heightened to where it was.”

For May, the consolation prize was knowing he had been part of history – one half of a battle for the ages.

“It has got to go down as one of the best duels in the game, in the major championships,” May said. “Granted, there have been some great ones, but this one was up there. Both of us shot 31 on the back nine with no bogeys. That’s not too bad.”

Woods’ 2000 season will grow in legend as time passes. He played 20 events, winning nine and finishing second four other times. Seventeen times he was in the top 10 and in the top 25 in all 20 tournaments he played.

Woods’ four PGA titles is second to the record five by Nicklaus and Walter Hagen. But the display of golf put on by Tiger and May at Valhalla is second to none. Others may equal it, but 20 years later, the 2000 PGA Championship remains one of golf’s greatest duels.  

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