"Tiger was on a different level"
Thomas Bjorn entered the third round of the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach with an outside chance of putting pressure on Tiger Woods for the title.
After nine holes, he was looking for a place to hide.
Woods had a six-shot lead after 36 holes. Normally that would be considered commanding. However, in a U.S. Open, on a course as tough as Pebble was set up that week, that’s never as big a margin as it seems.
“At the time, the U.S. Open was so difficult and Pebble was set up so hard,” Bjorn said. “When everybody got there we just sort of went, ‘Oh this is hard.’
“It was that period when they were pushing the golf courses with the long rough. The course was fair, but it was always long rough where if you missed the fairway you could only chop it out. I remember playing practice rounds and thinking ‘am I ever going to shoot under par here?’”
Bjorn was a seasoned tour pro by the time he turned up for the 2000 U.S. Open. He was a four-time European Tour winner, a Ryder Cup player. Within seven months he’d go head to head with Woods over four rounds in the Dubai Desert Classic and come out on top.
He was no match for Woods in the U.S. Open 20 years ago though. No one was.
“I played with him in the third round and after two holes I just sort of knew it wasn’t going to turn out well for me,” Bjorn said. “And you end up sort of watching.
“Apart from the third hole on Saturday where he made a triple, he was absolutely faultless. It was just a question of how many was he going to win by. There was almost a feeling he was saying ‘I’m this good and the rest of you are this poor.’ That was almost the feeling I got. It was a case of him being so much better than everybody else at that moment in time.”
Bjorn’s bid for his first major title was over after the front nine. That’s when he had to adopt his “stay the hell out of Tiger’s way” strategy.
“When you’re not perfect and not completely on in a U.S. Open at that time you get marginalised so easy. And I did. I remember walking around the back nine knowing I was going for big numbers and I just tried to stay out of the way. That was how I felt. I was playing in the last group on a Saturday and I literally felt like I probably shouldn’t be here.”
Bjorn wasn’t the only one who felt he shouldn’t be there. Everyone in the field felt that way.
“He was on a different level not only that week but for probably five six years. It wasn’t until Vijay (Singh) sort of stood up and took him on and then there was people niggling at him like David Duval, but he was on a different level and that week was probably his finest golfing moment.”
Bjorn was on the receiving end of another pasting from Woods a month later. The Dane finished second alongside Ernie Els in the Open Championship at St Andrews. They were a distant eight shots behind as Woods won his first Open Championship.
Els is part of the answer to a great major championship trivia question: who finished second to Woods at Pebble Beach 20 years ago? Miguel Angel Jimenez was the other player who shared victory in the B Flight that week.
To win an Open championship by eight shots is one thing, but to win the U.S. Open by 15 shots is another. In fact, it’s downright….well, pick whatever superlative you like. You won’t be wrong.
#JustSaying: “I kind of felt sorry for everybody else. It wasn’t a fair fight.” Justin Rose