SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – When Tiger Woods recently tweeted his announcement that he’d be returning to the Waste Management Phoenix Open following a 14-year absence, he included a YouTube video. Those with a keen sense of history didn’t even need to click the link.
The enduring clip shows a scrawny 21-year-old with an oversized shirt and overwhelming swing. He launches the ball high into the desert sky, and then watches as it takes two hops and bounces into the cup. And then … anarchy. Woods high-fives his caddie and raises the roof. The surrounding fans raise their beverages and launch them nearly as high as the tee shot. All around the tee box, it rains barley and hops.
“Just smelling and hearing the beer hit behind me,” Woods recalled this week. “Turn around and see all this beer flying was crazy. … You see all these beer cups everywhere on the tee box.”
It’s a memorable piece of video because of the outlandish, unconventional, spontaneous reaction. But it’s also so indelible because it represents one of the very few times that two of the game’s most popular phenomena have been intertwined.
Video: Tiger's hole-in-one at the 1997 Phoenix Open
Try this little experiment: Ask your favorite non-golfer – your great-grandmother, your toddler, your friendly neighborhood space alien – to name someone who plays the game for a living. Chances are, the answer will be: ‘Tiger Woods.’ Now ask that same non-golfer to name one type of golf shot. Chances are, the answer will be: ‘hole-in-one.’ Those who can’t tell an albatross from a triple bogey still understand the concept of an ace. It transcends golf.
And yet, when it comes to Woods making holes-in-one, the list is strikingly barren.
Though he confirms that he’s made 19 total aces in his life – the last coming four years ago at Isleworth – Woods only has three in his PGA Tour career.
There was one at the 1996 Greater Milwaukee Open in his professional debut. And the one here at TPC Scottsdale the next year that elicited the beer shower. And one more the year after that, a slam dunk at the Sprint International that never found its way onto television.
(“TV crews here have to take a mandatory union break, and it was on No. 7 at Castle Pines,” Woods remembered. “I hooped it. They showed me on the sixth green, take the union break. I hoop it on 7. They catch me up on the eighth fairway, par-5 up the hill. So that was probably one of the more funny ones, because it went in the hole on the fly and tore up the cup.”)
Since then? Nothing. Nada. A big, fat hole-in-none.
If you think Woods’ major championship slump is lengthy, consider his hole-in-one drought. It’s been 17 years since his last one in competition.
That’s 3,733 par-3 holes in PGA Tour events without a 1 on his scorecard.
Not that he’s keeping track.
Video: Tiger's ace in the 1996 Greater Milwaukee Open (scroll to :55 mark)
When Woods was questioned about his lack of aces in tournament rounds, he paused for a second before realizing, “I haven't had a hole-in-one, you're right, in competition in a long time.”
Overall, he’s posted his three aces in 4,583 par-3 holes on Tour, a percentage of.065 which sounds uncommonly low until we examine a few of his contemporaries.
Phil Mickelson owns five aces in 7,281 par-3s (.069 percent); Jim Furyk has five in 7,518 opportunities (.067); and Ernie Els, like Woods, has just three in 5,430 chances (.055). Want more? Rory McIlroy recently carded his first hole-in-one on the European Tour, but is still 0-for-1,192 in PGA Tour-sanctioned events.
And then there’s this: According to the National Hole-In-One Registry, the odds of a professional golfer making an ace are 2,500-to-1. Which means that Woods can play nearly 3,000 more par-3 holes in competition before falling off this pace.
That shouldn’t come as welcomed information for anyone anticipating a repeat of history this week, as Woods will revisit the famed 16th hole for the first time since 2001.
Neither should this: The tournament moved to this course more than a quarter-century ago, but there have been just eight holes-in-one at No. 16. Of course, the most famous remains that indelible moment produced by a 21-year-old Woods that has endured in a video clip ever since.
Even he knows, though, that an unlikely ace from the very same spot would produce a much different reaction this time around.
“Back in '97, they didn't have the bleachers like they did around the tee box,” he explained. “It was a hill and people were partying. I don't know if they still serve the alcohol like they used to. The guys who were playing behind me, they had some pretty wet lies. It was a different ballgame back then.”