The 1999 PGA Championship

By Mercer BaggsNovember 2, 2009, 10:00 am

Project 99I was there when … the boy wowed, but the young man won.

I was there, standing off the left side of the 18th green at Medinah Country Club, watching as the 23-year-old putted out for victory. I watched as he gave a wearied and relieved fist pump. I watched as he hugged his mother, his girlfriend and his 19-year-old adversary.

I was there at the 1999 PGA Championship, where the Wanamaker Trophy was awarded to Tiger Woods, and the keys to the golfing world seemed handed to Sergio Garcia.

The 81st edition of the PGA will forever be remembered for Woods weathering El Niño. A boy running and leaping like a ballerino, it’s time-stamped image.

But the way in which the week ended, all the smiles and the hugs and the promise, could not have been more contrarian to how it began.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods celebrates his second career major victory. (Getty Images)

Much of the talk prior to the start of the PGA wasn’t even about the PGA. It revolved around the Ryder Cup and comments certain prominent players had recently made about receiving compensation for participation.

David Duval, then the No. 1 player in the world, and Tiger Woods even referred to the matches as an “exhibition.” To someone like U.S. Ryder Cup captain Ben Crenshaw, you might as well have called John Wayne a wuss or George Patton a commie.

As for the monetary issue, it was Mark O’Meara who had first raised the compensation issue nearly a year prior after Golf Digest reported that the PGA of America netted roughly $17 million for the playing of the biennial competition.

Talk of a Ryder Cup controversy and liberal use of the words “player boycott” drowned out all the other story lines entering the PGA Championship – Woods trying to win his first major since winning his first major; Colin Montgomerie simply trying to win his first major and Jean Van de Velde playing his first major since an epic collapse in his last major.

The focus finally shifted to the tournament on Thursday after Garcia shot 6-under 66 to take a two-stroke lead on a soggy Day 1 in Lemont, Ill.

That score was a 23-stroke improvement upon his opening round performance at the Open Championship, where he shot 89-83 and wept openly in the arms of his mother.

Of course, it didn’t take long before some jackass in the media brought up Carnoustie.

I was said jackass.

“Sergio, what was the difference between the first round here today and your first round in Scotland,” was the innocent question.

“I think the British Open is done, so I don't want to hear any more questions about the Open,” was the defiant answer.

He looked on the verge of tears – again.

Some things never change: Ten years later Garcia is still emotional, still showcases the maturity of a teenager at times and is still without a major title to his credit.

Some things, however, do …

Garcia played a practice round with Woods at Medinah, a sign that the two might cordially compete against one another for years. That’s certainly what Garcia had in mind when he said Sunday evening, “I said when I turned pro that I wanted to be the No. 1 golfer in the world. … I want to be a rival for Tiger, but always being friends like we [were] today.”

Some things change quite a bit.

After a disappointing second-round 1-over 73, Garcia shot 68 Saturday to enter the final round two shots back of Woods and a second-year PGA Tour pro named Mike Weir.

Weir, the reigning Q-School medalist, had never won on Tour. But he sure acted like he had “been there before.” He couldn’t have been more courteous throughout the week, meeting each media request with compliance and a smile.

Even after he shot 80 in the final round to fall into a tie for 10th, Weir was congenial. A semi-circle of reporters, myself included, pressed Weir against the scoring trailer. You knew he’d rather be in Gen Pop than where he was at the moment, but he answered every question in a most professional manner.

“I gave it my best and I didn’t give up,” he said. “Eighty is the best score I could have shot, obviously. I tried on every shot.

“I’ll be back again.”

Three-and-a-half years later he made good on that promise, winning the Masters Tournament.

Not a person with a media badge would have bet that Sunday at Medinah that Weir would have won a major before Garcia – or that a decade later Garcia would still be major-ly deprived.

That Montgomerie is still sans major is far less shocking.

After tying for sixth at Medinah, Montgomerie headed off the grounds in a huff when some jackass dared ask him a question.

Again, I was said jackass.

“Monty, does not winning a major dampen what has been a very good season for you [he had won four times on the European Tour entering the PGA],” was the carefully phrased question.

“No, just for you,” was the very curt response. Turned out, he was wrong: I felt pretty good about him not winning.

Monty’s sullenness – and Weir’s unfortunate 80 – aside, Sunday at the ’99 PGA was a brilliant display of emotion.

What looked like a Tiger runaway, something not seen in a major championship since Augusta in ‘97, turned into a tight contest early on the back nine. Woods bogeyed the 12th hole, his first dropped shot of the day, and then watched on the par-3 13th tee box as Garcia made a 15-foot putt for birdie up ahead.

Garcia looked back at Woods and emphatically pumped his arm.

“I just wanted him to know I was still there and let him know he had to play well to win,” Garcia said of the celebration, adding that he wasn’t trying to show up Woods.

Of course, as we’ve come to learn, you can tell Tiger “good putt” and he’ll perceive it as a slight because you didn’t refer to it as “great.”

Woods never saw Garcia’s reaction, or so he said: “I saw him make the putt and I turned away. I knew what I had to do.”

He just didn’t do it.

Sergio Garcia
Sergio Garcia follows his shot on the 16th hole Sunday at the 1999 PGA. (Getty Images)
Woods airmailed a 6-iron and recorded a double bogey. The lead was now one.

It remained that way as Garcia stood in the right rough on the 16th hole, his ball nestled in the knot of a tree root.

Adhering to his favorite slogan, “Suerto o Muerto” – “luck or death” – Garcia violently lashed at the ball with a 6-iron. His eyes closed, his head turned, he never saw the club make contact. With a hill impeding his view of the green as well, he ran up the fairway and leaped with a scissor kick to catch a glimpse of his ball rolling to the back of the green, some 60 feet from the pin.

The crowd exploded. The people were his.

“I hope you don’t shank it in the water,” Woods would later hear from a patron while approaching the par-3 17th.

Garcia two-putted for par at 16 and missed birdie putts on 17 and 18 to finish at 10-under 278.

We later learned that Sergio Garcia being a major challenger to Tiger Woods was merely a myth, born in the legendary happenings on the 16th hole Sunday at Medinah.

We also learned in time that Tiger Woods is the greatest clutch putter in the history of the game. That is a fact, rooted on the 17th hole that same day.

Still leading by one and facing a par putt that could make a dog sweat, Woods, with assistance on the read from caddie Steve Williams, made the 6-foot slider.

He capped his victory with a routine two-putt for par at the last. It was major No. 2 and win No. 11 on Tour.

Ten years later he stands at 14 and 71, respectively.

After hugging Williams, Woods greeted his mother, Kultida, and girlfriend, Joanna Jagoda, in same. Garcia was there waiting to offer another embrace.

“To come out of it on top took everything out of me,” Woods said afterwards. “I just tried to hold him [Garcia] off and did the best I could.”

The 1999 PGA Championship was the first major championship I ever attended. I won’t forget Crenshaw’s anger, Weir’s congeniality, Montgomerie’s boorishness, Garcia’s duality, Duval’s indifference or Woods’ resoluteness.

But in the end, it’s the end that everyone else will always remember.

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