2002: PGA - Tiger’s roar down the stretch falls short
Just when he appeared down and out of it, he wasn’t. Once more the lesson was this: Don’t be surprised by any success Tiger Woods has on a golf course.
He had just three-putted No. 13 from 20 feet for bogey and bogeyed the 14th after a poor drive and chip. Suddenly he was six strokes behind leader Rich Beem and had only four holes left in the 84th PGA Championship. Then he hooked a drive into rough on the par-5 15th, letting go with the right hand, and his body language gave the impression of resignation.
We should know better. He had other thoughts.
As Woods walked down the 15th fairway, he turned to caddie Steve Williams and said, “If we birdie in, we’ll win the tournament. Let’s just suck it up and get it done.”
He was part right. He delivered yet another finishing kick, another Tiger moment, a run that ran out of holes. Woods birdied each of the final four difficult holes at Hazeltine National, making putts of 8, 10, 10 and 4 feet. But as it happened, Woods would finish second in a major for the first time, one stroke behind Beem’s 10-under-par total. Beem’s 35-foot birdie putt at 16, the course’s toughest hole, gave him the luxury of being able to three-putt No. 18 for an unlikely victory.
“I didn’t miss a shot coming in,” Woods said.
Per his custom, he didn’t give up, either. His 67 tied for low of the day. He called it one of his best rounds ever.
“I got the job done coming in, and that’s something I’m very proud of,” said Woods, who had won seven of the previous 12 major championships. “I could have easily just bagged it in and made pars coming in, who really cares? But that’s not the way I play.”
Woods’ famous game face was in full stare on the final four. His concentration level clearly was raised.
“Coming down the stretch, your focus heightens anyway,” said Woods. “I think that’s just natural. I just got into a nice little comfort zone where I just felt comfortable with my swing and my game and my putts.”
That swing, off with the driver much of the week, enabled him to hit more greens in regulation (51 of 72) than all but Heath Slocum (52). That swing enabled him to trim a five-shot deficit (to Justin Leonard) at day’s start to a one-shot disadvantage (to Beem) at the turn. His goal was to trim the lead to two or three with nine holes left. “Being only one back,” he said, “was a bonus.”
However, his mistakes at 13 and 14, coupled with Beem’s attacking, would deprive him of his ninth professional major title. The sloppiness was uncharacteristic of Woods, particularly on the back nine of a Grand Slam event.
At 13, Woods slid a 20-footer 4 feet by and blocked the putt coming back. He was fooled by the speed on the first one.
“Just made a mistake by not trusting myself on the read,” he said of the first putt. “That putt was fast in every practice round, but the greens were slow today, and I kept telling myself this putt is not as fast as what it looks. But I knocked it by the hole.”
Woods followed by pulling a 4-iron tee shot at 14, hitting a 9-iron over the green and chipping poorly to 15 feet before missing. That two-hole sequence would be his undoing.
“Any time you finish second in any tournament, it’s frustrating, disappointing,” said Woods, whose eight major victories have come from ahead after 54 holes. “But I’m also pumped at the way I finished.”
The second place locked up another PGA Player of the Year honor for Woods. Victories in the Masters and U.S. Open, of course, highlight a year he called “extremely successful.”
“Any time you can win one major in a year, it’s going to be a successful year in the major championships,” he said. “And I’ve had two.”