Athletes of the Decade
1. Tiger Woods
The sex scandal that rocked Tiger Woods late in 2009 doesn't diminish what he was able to accomplish on the golf course in the first decade of the 21st century. Starting with his Mercedes Championship title on Jan. 9, 2000, Woods won a total of 64 world events in the 2000s, including 56 PGA Tour titles and 12 majors. Only once when he had the lead heading into the final round did he fail to win. Increasing golf's popularity as fans flocked to events and turned on their TVs to watch his dominance, he became the sport's most recognizable figure.
2. Roger Federer
Although Roger Federer began his professional tennis career in 1998, it wasn't until February 2001 that he won his first ATP Tour title. From then on, his climb to the top of the tennis world was relentless. This past decade, Federer put together a campaign that makes him one of the best tennis players ever. En route to winning a record 15 Grand Slam singles titles and a career Grand Slam, he compiled a 188-25 record at majors. Federer has reached at least the semifinals of the last 22 Grand Slam tournaments, including reaching 10 straight Grand Slam finals, and held the No. 1 ranking for a record 237 straight weeks.
3. Kobe Bryant
While Kobe Bryant's NBA debut was in 1996, his first full season as a starter was in 1999-2000. That also was the year he won the first of his four NBA Championships with the Los Angeles Lakers. The last title came in 2009, when Bryant was named the Finals MVP in honor of his 30.2 ppg efforts. An All Star 10 times this decade, Bryant also led the league in scoring twice and was named to the All-Defensive first team seven times. In 2008, he also was the NBA MVP, became the youngest player ever to reach 20,000 points and won a gold medal with the U.S. team in Beijing.
4. Lance Armstrong
While Lance Armstrong's 1999 Tour de France victory was celebrated, it was slightly dimished by the fact he didn't have to race against some of the sport's best competitors. But when he repeated as the victor every year from 2000 to 2005 to claim a record seven Tour wins, Armstrong proved he was a world-class athlete. After retiring in 2005 and focusing on promoting his foundation for cancer research and support, Armstrong opted to return to competitive cycling in 2009. Despite his long absence from the sport, he finished third in the Tour de France.
5. (tie) Tom Brady
Selected by the Patriots in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft, Tom Brady was stuck as the No. 2 QB until being elevated to the starting spot when Drew Bledsoe suffered an injury early in the 2001 season. Brady led his team to a Super Bowl XXXVI and became the then-youngest QB ever to win. He was named the Super Bowl MVP. Since then, Brady has earned two more Super Bowl rings, passed for over 30,000 yards and been selected to four Pro Bowls. The 2007 NFL MVP also holds the record for most TD passes in a regular season with 50.
5. (tie) Michael Phelps
In the past decade, Michael Phelps has won 14 Olympic gold medals -- including a record eight at the Beijing Games in 2008 -- and two Olympic bronzes. No other Olympian has as many gold medals as Phelps. He also has earned 23 golds and four silvers at World Championships. As of Dec. 17, 2009, Phelps had shattered 37 world records.
7. Albert Pujols
As a rookie in 2001, Albert Pujols had the honored of being named to the All-Star Game roster by National League manager Bobby Valentine. He only got better from there, earning Rookie of the Year honors by batting .329 with 37 home runs and 130 RBI. Pujols has gone on to win the World Series in 2006, to earn NL MVP honors three times and to get eight All Star bids. His batting average in nine seasons is an impressive .334, with 366 HRs and 1,112 RBIs during that time.
8. Alex Rodriguez
Since signing a record 10-year, $252 million deal with the Texas Rangers in the 2000 season (which was later elevated to $275 million when he was traded to the New York Yankees in 2007), Alex Rodriguez has faced tremendous pressure to deliver. He's done that, helping the Yankees win the World Series in 2009, being named the American League MVP three times and winning two Gold Glove Awards, four AL Hank Aaron Awards and seven Silver Slugger Awards.
9. Peyton Manning
In the past decade, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning has set many NFL records and put himself on pace to smash others. By winning the MVP award in 2003, 2004 and 2008, he became just the second player ever to claim the award three times. An eight-time Pro Bowl pick in the 2000s, the cerebral quarterback has thrown 310 touchdowns while achieving a 101-43 record (prior to the 2009 season) and has broken almost all of Indy's QB records.
10. (tie) Shaquille O'Neal
Not only just a big man, Shaquille O'Neal has proven to be a big presence and big threat on the basketball court. O'Neal's four NBA titles -- three with Los Angeles and one with Miami -- have all come this decade, as have his three NBA Finals MVP honors and league MVP award. He's been an All Star every year this decade but 2008 and was the All-Star Game MVP in 2000, 2004 and 2009. O'Neal also took home the scoring championship in 2000.
10. (tie) Tim Tebow
A multi-threat quarterback, Florida quarterback Tim Tebow will graduate in 2010 with two BCS Championship victories and two SEC titles. The first college player ever to rush and pass for at least 20 touchdowns in a season, Tebow won the Heisman Trophy his sophomore year. It was the first time ever that an underclassman was honored with the award. Tebow was nominated for the Heisman the next two years as well. Among the records he has set during his Florida career are the SEC ones for rushing (56) and total (141) touchdowns and total yards (11,699). He's a two-time Maxwell Award winner and received the James E. Sullivan Award in 2007 as the country's best amateur athlete in any sport.