’96 NCAAs: Tiger, big crowds and one wild shot

Tiger Woods studies at putt during the 1996 NCAA Championship.

Tiger Woods studies at putt during the 1996 NCAA Championship.


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OOLTEWAH, Tenn. – Arizona State coach Randy Lein hasn’t forgotten much from the 1996 NCAA Championship at The Honors Course, which the Sun Devils won by three shots over UNLV, a victory that may have been a little overshadowed by a Stanford sophomore named Tiger Woods.

“I know the guys are sick of hearing it from me the last 12 months,” Lein said Monday, as a sunshower passed over the course, standing just a few yards from the plaque that commemorates ASU’s victory.

As for those memories, here are some of the highlights:

• Lein said “right from the get-go during the first practice round,” a lot of bizarre things happened that “wouldn’t normally happen during a week.” For example, the same song was playing every time the team turned on the radio in the van.

“I’ve been telling the guys here, I’m just waiting for the stars to line up properly,” said Lein. Arizona State is currently 16th in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings.

“We’ve got a good team, and we have been underachieving,” he said. “We have not played nearly to our capabilities. So I’m expecting some surprises this week.”

• During the final round, the par-3 16th hole was playing about 210 yards and was the one place Lein thought his team could lose some shots. The Sun Devils made three bogeys there, which Lein figured wasn’t too bad. But then UNLV made two birdies; one player chipped in, another hit “a spectator or a tree” and the ball bounced to 4 feet.

“That was a little scary,” Lein said.

• Lein said he was told that about 9,000 spectators filled The Honors Course during the final round, most of them there to watch Woods. He said during the first two rounds, his team ran into spectators just standing in the fairway, basically unaware that other teams were playing.

“All the college events we go to, I mean if you have 20 people following a group, that’s quite a few. If you have a couple hundred, now this guy is pretty special.”

Nine-thousand? “That was definitely the Tiger Effect,” said Lein.

Penn State coach Greg Nye was also coaching that crazy day in 1996, and remembers the throngs of people moving around the course.

“They all wanted to see what a Tiger is,” he said.

• Lein spoke with Woods in the airport after he shot 80 to still win the individual title by four shots. He said Woods described his own temperament to the effect of “it’s kind of strange because I just won a national championship, but I also shot 80.”

“But I think it was more relief than anything,” Lein said.

• Don’t forget what Woods did a few weeks earlier at the Pac-10 Championship, Lein said.

Woods, who had missed Pac-10s his freshman year because of a knee problem, played the opening 36-hole day at Big Canyone in Newport Beach, Calif., in 61-65. The previous course record had been 66.

“That certainly got a lot of people’s attention,” said Lein.

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