The last decade of Tiger Woods’ career has been a pretty bumpy ride. Great years followed by lean years. Injuries followed by more injuries. Starts and stops and a whole lot of surgeries. But as we near the quarter-century mark (!!) of Woods as a professional golfer, we should look back and see how those years fit in the bigger picture.
Tiger has been the best or one of the best golfers in the world since Bill Clinton was the President. That’s a long time. Some of those years were the best years anyone has ever had playing golf. I’m going to attempt to rank them (an impossible and probably risky) task as we look back from No. 1 to No. 23.
1. 2000 (9 wins): Nine wins in 20 events, including the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by 15 strokes, the Open at St. Andrews, the last three major championships. Comic book stuff.
2. 2006 (8): The greatest strokes-gained season in recorded history (since 2004). Woods beat the field on average by 3.3 strokes this year. He also won his last six events and shot only three of those 24 rounds in the 70s. He only teed it up 15 times and won eight of them, including two majors.
3. 2005 (6): He won the Masters (dramatically) and the Open, but it was somehow not one of his three best strokes-gained years. He finished in the top four in all four majors.
4. 2002 (5): Just a run-of-the-mill five-win season. He won the Masters again and added another U.S. Open to the collection. It was his sixth major in his last nine tries.
5. 2008 (4): This is the hardest one to rank. On one hand, he only won four times. On the other, he only played six events. On one leg, he won the U.S. Open.
6. 2001 (5): How about going three in a row at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Players Championship and Masters (to hold all four majors at one time) and that not being in your top five years?
7. 1997 (4): Statistically-speaking, it wasn’t near the top. Historically-speaking, it might be the G.O.A.T. Winning the Masters by 12 as a 21-year-old African-American. Astonishing.
8. 2007 (7): One of his three strokes-gained seasons over 3.0. He finished second or first at three of the four majors and won four of his last five overall. Have I mentioned that sorting these seasons is impossible?
9. 1999 (8): Woods won five of his last six events that year, including the PGA Championship, Tour Championship and two different WGCs. He also won the first two of 2000 to make it seven of eight.
10. 2019 (1): It feels weird to put a one-win year in the top 10, but when that one win was the Masters and you hadn’t won a major in over a decade, this is probably where it goes.
11. 2003 (5): Three wins in four tries to start the year but no majors.
12. 2009 (6): He won six (!) times, but he also got downed by Y.E. Yang at the PGA Championship after leading by two at the 54-hole mark.
13. 2013 (5): Objectively a great year, but his contention at the major championships was up and down. He finished T4 at the Masters and T6 at The Open but never really had a grip on either tournament.
14. 2012 (3): His T40 at the Masters this year was his worst finish since missing the cut in 1996 as an amateur.
15. 2004 (1): This was the swing-change lull before the second half of his early-2000s dominance. This was also the first year of strokes gained on the PGA Tour. Tiger finished first.
16. 1996 (2): Woods won twice in eight events. He was 20. This is No. 16 on his list of best years. No big deal.
17. 1998 (1): Woods only won once — at the old BellSouth Classic in Georgia — this year, but he started the year with three straight top twos and finished in the top 20 at every major championship, including a third-place finish at The Open.
18. 2018 (1): It’s hilarious to me that winning a Tour Championship and posting two other runner-up finishes — a year that would be among the best ever for most other pro golfers — ranks 18th (!) on Tiger’s list.
19. 2010: This was probably his best non-winning year. 2010 Masters was Tiger’s first back from the scandal of late 2019, and he finished T4. He also finished T4 at the U.S. Open.
20. 2011: Only two top 10s this year, although one of them was at the Masters, which Charl Schwartzel won. He battled with injuries throughout this year and withdrew from the Players Championship.
21. 2014: A miserable season that saw him miss the PGA Championship cut. More WDs than top-50 finishes on the PGA Tour.
22. 2017: Woods played just once on the PGA Tour — at the Farmers Insurance Open — and he missed the cut. We wouldn’t see him again on the PGA Tour until the next Farmers Insurance Open in 2018.
23. 2016: It didn’t exist. After playing 11 times on the PGA Tour in the 2014-15 season, Woods didn’t play at all in 2016.