2003: PGA Tour - Woods’ World
Restoring world order might be too much to ask, given George and Saddam and North Korea and everything, but Tiger Woods in short order has tilted the golf world back on its familiar axis. Things are back to normal, to pre-Woods knee surgery, to pre-Ernie Els worldwide victory binge.
Others played while the big cat was away, but he has returned with a two-victory statement. In doing so, at numerous times he has looked better than he did while winning three major champion-ships in 2000.
Classify that as possible-monster-season scary.
Seemingly just yesterday, as Woods recovered from the December arthroscopic operation, people wondered if he could spot Els those two PGA Tour victories in Hawaii and catch him. Answer: Caught him with two U.S. wins, passed him on U.S. money list. Next question.
The familiar conclusion is to never, never, never underestimate Woods.
After claiming the WGC-Accenture Match Play final, 2 and 1, against David Toms, Woods was asked if he could have imagined winning two West Coast events coming off surgery.
“Uh-huh,” he said. That means yes. He smiled wide without showing his teeth. People laughed. Later he expounded.
“How many times have I told you this?” Woods said. “I expect to go out there and win every tournament I play in, because that’s my level of expectation. That’s what I strive to do. That’s why I work. If I show up at a tournament, that’s my goal. And I’ve accomplished my goal two out of three weeks.”
That means he bagged the San Diego County Double. First the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines, then the Match Play two weeks later at La Costa. If not for some sloppy play in the sandwiched Nissan Open, where he tied for fifth, he might have himself a Southern Cal Triple.
He missed the Triple but secured another Slam. This one is the World Golf Championships career Slam, for he has won all four WGC events. He’s batting .500 in those, having won seven of 14 WGC starts. The latest gives him 36 Tour victories in his eighth professional season, tied with Lloyd Mangrum for 11th on the Tour’s all-time trophy list. The latest means there are now only two Tour events Woods has played three or more times as a pro without winning: Nissan and Phoenix.
In taking six matches here, Woods went 25 under par for 112 holes, and he was only 1 under in the 35-hole final because of poor putting. If this were stroke play, he would’ve lapped the field at least once. Consider for perspective that runner-up Toms was 7 under for his 121 holes on a difficult setup that featured high rough, slick greens and pins tucked in corners.
“When he plays well, he wins,” said Toms. “We all know that.”
Only one of Woods’ matches reached the final hole – a 19-hole triumph against Tiger clone Adam Scott in the semifinal. Three times he won by blowout – 5 and 3 over K.J. Choi; 7 and 6 over Stephen Leaney; and 5 and 4 over Scott Hoch in succession.
Remarkably, Woods made only one bogey in 77 holes on his way to the final and only five all week. And that first bogey didn’t matter, for it came on the ninth hole of the blowout of Leaney when he rammed a 30-foot putt 13 feet by the cup. “The COR (spring-like effect) on my putter is probably illegal,” Woods joked.
He lost only four holes in his first four matches. He trailed after only 10 holes in seven rounds. Scott scared him and Toms, in the first Match Play final featuring two players ranked in the world top 10, cut a 5-down deficit to 1-down. But the rest was a Woods cruise.
“When you have control of your game on a difficult golf course like this, it gives you confidence going into every match,” Woods said.
You might say his esteem is high. Woods says he’s better than he was last year because he has more shots in his arsenal and because he’s healthy. The knee is without pain. He won two majors last year on a sore knee. Imagine what he might do now.
“For me to play 72 holes the first week and play pain-free was the biggest thing,” Woods said. “And then to win, it was a bonus. Now I’ve won two tournaments. But you can’t believe how happy I am not to be hobbling along and waking up in the middle of the night, when you can’t go back to sleep. And dreading to go out and play the next day because I have to hop back on the painkillers again. That’s not how I want to play golf.”
In case you missed it, Chief Painkilling Sore Knee won five Tour titles last year. No one else won more than two. Chief Sore Knee won $6.9 million. No one else won more than $4.3 million.
Now he’s happy and healthy and . . . again, use your imagination.
What statistics won’t show is how Woods created this latest gem. Because La Costa’s greens were soft from rain, he often dialed down two clubs and hit dead-hands iron approach shots to take spin off the ball. He hit 120-yard 8-irons and 150-yard 6-irons. He’s done that some at the AT&T Pebble Beach tournament before, but not this much. Meanwhile, many other players were hitting full shots that spun back too far or off greens.
“You have to hit little chip shots and plot your way along,” Woods said.
Toms noticed, and he expressed some amazement at the artistry.
“People don’t realize he had to chip the ball around this golf course,” the runner-up said. “If he used a full club, he’d spin shots off every green. So he’d use one or two more clubs. Hitting those shots show how his game has progressed.”
Toms also showed his mettle. In the wee hours before the third round, he was hospitalized with food poisoning, barely slept and almost withdrew. But he gutted out a 1-up victory over Alex Cejka.
Then Toms was 5 down through 19 holes of the final, mainly because substandard putting led to five bogeys. But he chipped away in the afternoon round, winning six holes with four birdies and two pars. He cut Woods’ lead to 1 up with a birdie at 11, and took that margin to 17, but a poor drive way right led to bogey and defeat.
“I was not going to quit,” Toms said. “It’s not in my nature. On national TV I wanted to last a long time. I didn’t want to get embarrassed on national TV. I had to dig deep, which is hard to do. We’ve all got that little guy in the back of your head putting negative thoughts in there. I was able to overcome them.”
Might say this David overcame everything but one Goliath.