Bob May understands the fuss now. Somehow he didn’t 14 years ago. Ken Venturi and Jim Nantz would call his 2000 PGA Championship final day against Tiger Woods one of the best head-to-head duels ever, and he’d shrug it off, saying, “Come on, guys.”
Now he’s “getting a grasp” they were right. He has seen it ranked highly on enough lists. But he maintains he was too busy for perspective on that wonderful Sunday at Valhalla. “I didn’t know what was taking place because I was so focused on my game,” May said.
These days May, now 45, is focused on others’ games as a golf instructor in Las Vegas. He turned to teaching 2½ years ago after recurring lower-back problems derailed his full-time playing career in 2010. After three consecutive Nationwide Tour seasons, he tired of undesirable results and daily consumption of pain medication.
The problem long had been a spinal nerve canal half the normal size. That made him susceptible to herniated disks. A 2003 surgery enlarged the canal and kept him off the PGA Tour for almost three years.
“There was a 10 percent chance of being paralyzed,” May said. “But to have a chance to play golf, it’s something I had to do.”
He had but one Tour top 10 in 56 starts before that 2000 PGA and has had only three since, none after 2007. But he forever has one special week in Louisville that lives on, particularly as the PGA returns there. May had preceded fellow Southern Californian Woods as America’s best junior, but as a 31-year-old journeyman on that Sunday, he was a would-be David against Goliath.
“Nothing but good times,” May said. “It reconfirmed I could play with the best players in the world.”
May recalls thinking, “Oh, my goodness,” when Woods outdrove him by 60 yards on the first hole. But then May shot a third consecutive 66 that probably rates as the best major final round anyone has played alongside Woods.
In claiming the third leg of the 2000-01 Tiger Slam, Woods went 7 under par on the last 12 holes and forced a three-hole playoff. Woods matched May’s 18-foot birdie from 6 feet on 18, then won by a stroke in overtime after getting a break when his drive way left on the final hole somehow stayed in play.
“The better you are, the luckier you are,” said father Jerry May, who at 72 still motorcycles cross-country with his son. “Tiger was really blessed on a couple shots. But it was one of the best matches ever, win or lose.”
The younger May can’t shake Woods’ decisive birdie on the first extra hole. Woods walked briskly behind the 20-footer, pointing as the ball disappeared. May has seen that moment countless times because TV “shows it all the time.” It’s to the point May’s golf buddies playfully walk and point after putting.
May says the mimicking is funny. He’s so good-natured about it, he wants Woods to autograph a photograph of the image. “I want it to be funny,” May said. “Something like, ‘Sorry, Bobby, that you have to see it all the time.’ ”
He also wants to “reminisce” with Woods about that day and maybe “even do a show.” He’d prefer to do that out on Tour again, for May hasn’t given up the dream. He’s going to Web.com Tour Q-School this fall with bigger things in mind.
“I actually think I hit it as good or better now,” May said. “As long as my back holds up, I think I can play at the highest level. I’m never going to give up on playing. I don’t have any fear of the golf club. The only fear I have is with my body.”