(Editor’s note: Golf Channel turned 20 years old on Jan. 17. In recognition, we are looking back at golf over the last two decades with a series of articles and photo galleries throughout the week.)
Tiger Woods has given us so many unforgettable moments over the last 20 years it would be hard to narrow down a top 10 list of his best shots.
The chip at Augusta. The ace in Phoenix. Winning on one leg at Torrey Pines. And that’s just a start.
I was fortunate to have witnessed one incredible Tiger moment that will surely be included on Woods’s highlight reel when he hangs up the spikes.
At the 2012 Memorial, Woods was one shot behind Rory Sabbatini when he came to the tee at the difficult par-3 16th. Woods’s tee shot sailed over the green, and his chances to win a fifth Memorial title looked dim.
In order to save par, Woods needed to barely land the ball on the green and let it trickle toward the hole. If he didn’t pull off the shot he risked leaving it in the rough, or if he wasn’t careful the ball could easily roll through the green and into the large pond fronting the hole.
He used to always come through in the clutch, but this was a post-scandal Woods and golf fans began to wonder if his best days were behind him.
Too much scar tissue.
The competition is better.
Other guys don’t fear him anymore.
All valid reasons given Woods spent the better part of two years buried in trashy headlines, and in his absence players such as Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson had taken over the game.
But Woods began his comeback with a win at his Chevron World Challenge in December 2011, and he followed that up with his first official PGA Tour win since the scandal with a five-shot clinic at Bay Hill.
Even then there was still something missing. Where was the “Tiger moment?” Was he still capable of executing a magical shot when it mattered most?
Once his tee shot flew the green, I hung back to see how Sabbatini would play the hole. Thinking Woods was doomed, I figured I’d follow Sabbatini in as he tried to close out the tournament, or force a playoff with Andres Romero, who had the clubhouse lead.
As I stood on the 16th tee, I could see Woods practicing full swings, indicating he was playing a big flop shot.
The buzz in the crowd died down and for a few seconds it was completely silent as Woods settled in over his shot. I could see him take his swing, and then the buzz returned. The buzz steadily grew louder and louder before this explosion of noise came from the 16th green.
Somehow Woods holed the shot for birdie.
I immediately cursed at myself for not being right there when it happened. After all, I had an inside-the-ropes badge, and I could have literally been steps away from witnessing that miraculous shot.
But then I realized I had a unique vantage point. Standing back on the tee, I was able to see the fans gradually stand up as the ball crept closer to the hole. And I felt the full force of the noise when it fell into the cup.
As I hustled to catch up to Woods’s group it was amazing to see the shocked expressions on people’s faces and hear the reactions from the gallery.
“Did you see that?!” and “Holy $*&%!” were probably the most common responses.
It wasn’t until after Woods had closed out his 73rd PGA Tour win that I realized just what I had witnessed. He was answering questions in the press center when tournament host Jack Nicklaus came in the back door and sat down next to the champion.
When asked about Woods’s amazing shot, Nicklaus, a guy who knows a little something about hitting incredible shots, didn’t mince words.
“I don't think under the circumstances I've ever seen a better shot,” the Golden Bear said.
Having been there myself, I certainly can’t disagree.