April 9, 2001 -- Tiger Woods had the right idea.
When looking for a point of comparison for his feat of winning his fourth straight major, he stayed within the realm of his own brief, if brilliant, career.
"To win four consecutive majors, if you look at my career, I don't think I have ever accomplished anything this great," Woods said Sunday after finishing the Masters at 16-under-par 272. That put him two strokes ahead of David Duval and three strokes ahead of Phil Mickelson, for his 27th PGA Tour victory.
"I think it's a slam," PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said Sunday, warding off any dispute about whether what Woods has done deserves the highest praise. "It's a different kind of slam than we grew up with, but different is OK."
Sportswriters have tried to come up with other words for it — a Tiger Slam, a Straight Slam. Forget it.
Arguments about whether what Woods has done is a true Grand Slam — something no one in golf has achieved, with the possible exception of Bobby Jones, who won the four biggest tournaments of his era in 1931 — are beside the point.
After becoming the youngest man to win the Masters, the British Open, the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship in his career, Woods has become the first to hold all four titles simultaneously.
At Least Equal to the Best
It may not yet be time to talk about Woods' place in sports history — he's still carving that out. But it's not too soon to drop the slam semantics and say that what Woods has done over the last year is one of the greatest feats in all of sports.
He has won the four greatest tournaments in the game back-to-back-to-back-to-back, and he has done it against strong opponents playing at the top of their game.
"To me it's certain that Tiger's accomplishment is equal to the best of earlier years. It's at least equal, if not superior," said Curt Sampson, a golf historian whose most recent book is The Eternal Summer: Palmer, Nicklaus, Hogan in 1960. "I really am a bit stuck in the dust of the past, but I have to grudgingly admit that Tiger is right there with them."
His charisma and marketing clout put him in the rarefied air of Michael Jordan in terms of moneymaking, but comparing what the two men accomplished in their sports is difficult, if not ridiculous.
Woods doesn't get to harass his opponents while they're lining up a shot. When Duval and Mickelson mounted their challenge Sunday, all Woods could do was lift his game. And that's what he did.
"To win four majors in succession," Woods said, "it's hard to believe, really, because there's so many things that go into winning a major championship. For that matter, any tournament, but more so majors because you've got to have your game peak at the right time and on top of that, you've got to have some luck."
‘Not Like Anyone We've Seen Before’
To really find the like of it, you have to look back to Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak in 1941, Mark Spitz's seven gold medals in the 1972 Olympics, perhaps Bjorn Borg's seven-month stretch without losing a set in 1978, or Byron Nelson's 11 straight PGA tour victories in 1945.
A couple of track and field stars come to mind, though their feats rarely get mentioned in the same breath as the others', because at least in the United States their sport is considered to be minor. Still, it's hard to discount high hurdler Edwin Moses' 122-race winning streak from 1977 to 1987, or pole vaulter Sergei Bubka's six straight world title wins from 1983 to 1997.
But none of those feats diminish what Woods has already done, especially considering that at 25, he probably has not yet hit his peak.
"He's not like anyone we've seen before in the game," fellow pro Mark Calcavecchia said Sunday.
While he's still a long way from Jack Nicklaus' career mark of 18 majors, and Woods' hairline may be receding, there is no sign that his game is. Based on what he's already done, it's hard to believe that before it does, he won't erase any doubt about his place as perhaps the greatest in the history of golf, and all of sport.