To commemorate Tiger Woods' 40th birthday, Matt Rudy compiled some of the 14-time major winner's best moments of his storied career, and explains how they can be of instructional use to your own game.
Probably the most famous shot Woods has ever hit, this hole-out is huge both for how hard it was -- from a tight lie next to the collar to a landing area the size of a grapefruit -- and for the circumstances surrounding it.
Woods was locked in a battle with Chris DiMarco, and the birdie gave him the two-shot cushion he would need to hang on and get into a playoff, which he eventually won. Woods said the key to the shot was picking a specific landing area for the delicate pitch—a slice of light between shadows thrown by tree branches.
You can practice the same technique by placing a tee in the practice green and hitting a variety of short game shots different trajectories and landing as close to the tee as possible.
Generally considered Woods’ best-ever shot (non-major division), his 213-yard 6-iron from the bunker over water to a tiny target at the 2000 Canadian Open was a signature moment in a season of dominance.
For the average player, the addition of sand to the equation makes this a scary shot, but Woods had a perfect lie, which actually helped him produce more spin and land the shot in a smaller area. One way to promote a clean, high shot out of fairway sand is to swing to a full, high finish. Many players make the mistake of digging the club into the sand in an effort to blast the ball out.
At his peak, Woods was dominant off the tee and around the green, but many of his majors were won with superior recovery shots from seemingly impossible positions.
At the 2002 PGA Championship at Hazeltine, Woods faced a long approach shot from a sidehill lie in a fairway bunker. He hit a high hook with a 3-iron directly over trees in his path, ending up 20 feet from the flag, a shot many observers called the best they’d ever seen.
Woods’ shot was one maybe a handful of players in history could pull off, but for your own, tamer version, play the ball from the middle of your stance to catch the ball first, and swing the club along your stance line.
The 16th at the Phoenix Open is more of a rock concert than a golf venue, with thousands of rowdy fans lining the tee in huge grandstands. Woods gave one of his first signature “big star” performances in 1997, jarring 9-iron from 152 yards to turn the crowd into a screaming, beer-tossing frenzy.
You might not be able to hole every iron, but you can hit better ones by improving your lower body sequencing. On the downswing, your weight should shift from your right heel to your left toe as your weight transfers toward the target.
Hard to believe that the ’08 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines is Woods’ last major win to date, but at least he left us with a memorable one.
Playing hurt on damaged knee ligaments and bone fracture in his leg, Woods gritted out four rounds in obvious pain. Needing a 12-footer on the bumpy 18th green to force a playoff with Rocco Mediate, he poured it in. Clutch putting has long been Woods’ signature skill. He does it with equal parts good technique and preparation.
Just because you don’t play on tour doesn’t mean you can’t have a book on your home course. Map the contours of your home greens to guesswork out of your reads.
Woods’ 2005 Open Championship win at St. Andrews has been called a ball-striking clinic because he never hit it in a bunker in four days. But his win the next year at Royal Liverpool was arguably more impressive.
Woods hit a variety of low and high iron shots off most tees at the narrower Liverpool layout, mixing stingers with towering down-wind fairway woods and long irons. He missed only eight fairways all week, on the way to a two-shot win. Even if you don’t carry a 3-iron anymore (and you shouldn’t), you can still hit a fairway wood stinger for more control and distance in windy conditions or pressure situations.
To hit it, start your release when the club is parallel to the ground on the downswing and feel the back of your left hand aim more toward the ground through impact. By keeping your arms relaxed through the downswing, you also avoid adding too much backspin and height to the shot.