Looking back: Tiger’s U.S. Am win at TPC Sawgrass

Tiger Woods walks to the 17th hole's island green at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., during practice for the 2013 Players Championship.

Tiger Woods walks to the 17th hole's island green at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., during practice for the 2013 Players Championship.

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If Tiger Woods’ first Players Championship victory, in 2001, is remembered best for his better-than-most birdie putt on the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass, then Sunday’s victory might be known for his dustup with Sergio Garcia after the third round – and then Garcia’s final-round collapse on No. 17 that ultimately sealed a two-shot victory for Woods.

It was an unforgettable finish, as Woods pull away early Sunday before hitting his tee ball into the water at the par-4 14th. Then on the 17th green, facing a difficult two-putt, he watched as Garcia buried a birdie across the water on No. 16 to grab a share of the lead. But in the end, and three water balls by Garcia later (two on No. 17, one on No. 18), Woods had his third career victory at TPC Sawgrass.

Yes, three.

Woods’ first victory at TPC Sawgrass came at the 1994 U.S. Amateur. That was before the majors, before the 78 career PGA Tour victories, and before he solved Pete Dye’s Players Stadium course twice more en route to winning a pair of Players titles.

That tournament could be remembered most for Woods’ dramatic comeback in the championship match against Trip Kuehne.

Woods found himself 6 down after 13 holes of the 36-hole final. And with 12 holes remaining, he had only managed to get one hole back. As he made the turn for the second time, Woods was 3 down with nine holes to play.

But just seven holes later, following a birdie on the par-5 16th – the same hole Woods’ final birdie of the 2013 Players came on – the match was all square. Then came a birdie at No. 17, Tiger nearly finding the water with his tee shot but instead spinning his ball back to about 14 feet from the hole. It was a back-right hole location, too, similar to Sunday's at the 2013 Players.

And then there was the match-clinching, conceded par at No. 18, which came after Kuehne three-putted for bogey.

Woods won, 2 up, that day. It would be he first of three straight U.S. Amateur victories for Woods, and at the time, made the 19-year-old Woods the youngest player to ever win the U.S. Amateur – Danny Lee broke that mark at the 2008 U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst.

Woods’ mother, Kultida, was watching the tournament on TV back home in Cypress, Calif. She told Sports Illustrated back in 1994, referencing Tiger’s tee shot at No. 17: “That boy almost gave me a heart attack,” she said. “All I kept saying was, ‘God, don’t let that ball go in the water.’ That boy tried to kill me.”

Woods said she probably reacted similarly after his tee shot Sunday at No. 14 found the water.

“I'm sure that she'll give me a ration of grief for the shot on 14 and what I did with her blood pressure, but I'm sure it's all good now, though,” Woods said.

Woods didn’t give that iconic fist pump Sunday that he delivered on the 17th green in each of his previous two victories. But his latest Players victory was just as special, and maybe even more so considering his recent track record at the tournament. In his last nine Players starts before this year, Woods had recorded just one top 10 – an eighth-place finish in 2009 – “This golf course has been a little bit tricky over the years,” Woods said.

But Sunday, Tiger got back to his winning ways at TPC Sawgrass, solving Pete Dye’s tough test for a third time.

And in the process he produced another memory for us to remember.

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