Friday, February 26, 2021

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Tiger Tales from Torrey Pines

Final score: 69-63-72-68 (-16)
Position after 54 holes: 2 shots behind Luke Donald and Tom Lehman
Winning margin: 3 strokes over Howell III, Donald and Lehman

PETER LONARD: “We had a bunch of fog delays that week and I ended up paired with Tiger for the last 36 holes – I think we had to play about 31 of them on Sunday with no re-pairing after the third round. He probably wasn’t even at his best, but he was clearly unbelievable at times, especially out of the rough.

“We started on the 10th in the third round and both hit driver and mine was 30 yards in front of him – I don’t know if it hit something – but we were looking for it and the crowd was motioning further up and I couldn’t believe it. I had a chuckle but felt like I was 50 yards behind him the rest of the way.

“I always got on great with Tiger. Maybe because I met him in the 1997 Australian Masters when I was still a club pro and I played with him on the Saturday.

“I remember Tiger hit it in the left rough on the par-5 13th at one point where everyone was just hacking it out from. He gouged it out to get it up near the green, which was incredible. I walked away from that shot thinking not many guys in the history of the game could gouge it out from that rough and move it that far. It wouldn’t matter how strong I was I didn’t have that ability and not many did.

“No one really knew me out there – for 12 years people called me Justin Leonard – and I ended up a spectator as the tournament became between Tiger and Tom Lehman, who was also in the group. They were pretty neck-and-neck from memory until Tom bogeyed 17 to be one back. I remember Tom couldn’t reach 18 in two but got to a good spot to wedge from. Tiger ripped it down the last but then mishit his iron and it landed between the pond and the rough so he had this really tight lie off a bit of a downslope and he just hit this unbelievable shot to maybe 10 or 15 feet. He was likely going to win with a two-putt but he didn’t leave it to chance and knocked it home.

“The thing about Tiger – you could tell when it was really game on. He would have a different look. The best I saw was the World Golf Championship at Akron when Rory Sabbatini had said some things about Tiger being beatable or something like that. I was on the range that day when Tiger walked out and you just knew he was going to bury him and beat him by 20. It was like he had a ‘Do not Disturb’ sign around his neck – do not talk to me, I’m busy. And of course he did bury him – and everyone else.”


2003

Final score: 70-66-68-68 (-16)
Position after 54 holes: 1-shot lead over Brad Faxon, 2-shot lead over Phil Mickelson
Winning margin: Beat Carl Pettersson (69) by 4

FAXON: “We had a lot of people, and I think because it was Phil’s hometown, they were pulling for Phil over Tiger. As much as I was a competitor, I was a fan that day, too. I watched every shot both of them hit. It was exciting for me.

“Tiger was just starting back after knee surgery, and Phil had made the comments about his Nike equipment not being up to snuff. There was some animosity between them – I don’t think it was noticeable while you were playing – but I went on Golf Channel and they asked me to wear a referee’s shirt and be neutral because I knew them both.

“It took forever for the guy to announce Tiger’s accomplishments on the first tee, and then it was just, ‘Brad Faxon.’ Nothing more. It was pretty funny. The technology was changing, but Tiger still teed the ball down, had a smaller-headed driver, and hit this laser that cut about five yards and split the bunkers and stopped in the middle of the fairway. Slight tip of the cap, if any.

“Throughout the round, he and Phil talked to me separately, felt like they had my confidence. It was kind of neat, really. Phil was talking about the birth of Sofia, and then Tiger comes to me, after half-listening, to tell me how irrelevant that story was. He was always good to play with, but there was a difference in Tiger that day. He had his game face on.  

“My caddie was Tommy Lamb in the early 2000s; we called him Chop, Lamb Chop. He loved golf so much. We were on the 11th tee; this was a 225-yard shot downhill into the wind to that top-left pin, there was a tier. Tiger hit this 4-iron, and my caddie groaned. The sound was that good – like something he’d never heard before. The ball started 5 or 10 feet right of the flag, barely dropped to the left, and landed softly six inches from the hole for a tap-in birdie. It was the most perfect shot you’ve ever seen. Perfect, thin, bacon-strip divot. I’ve never had a divot look like that. Ever. It took the top of the grass and left the roots sort of growing. You wouldn’t have even had to put sand on it. And it was the exact width of the club for about four or five inches. Tiger looked at Tommy and sort of smiled under his breath, if that’s an expression. 

“He made us look like amateurs that day, and by us, I mean Phil, too. Phil had ignited this equipment controversy, and Tiger just silenced him.”


1999

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