Rewind Tiger 10 Years Ago

By Mercer BaggsAugust 27, 2006, 4:00 pm
Eyes must have been rolling. Heads must have been shaking. People must have been fighting to contain their laughter.
 
It was August 27, 1996 at Brown Deer Park Golf Club in Milwaukee, Wis., and Tiger Woods was on the eve of playing in his first PGA TOUR event as a professional.
 
He had just made his famous Hello, world introduction and read nervously from a prepared statement. He was in the middle of taking questions from reporters on site, when he was asked what would make this week a successful one in his eyes.
 
Tiger Woods
Ten years later, Tiger Woods is still smiling.
A victory, he said.
 
Scoffs and harrumphs for everyone. Who does this kid think he is, they must have wondered. This aint the amateur ranks, son. This is the gol darn PGA TOUR. You dont just turn pro and win.
 
They were right. Tiger didnt win that week, tying for 60th at the Greater Milwaukee Open. But he did attract a whole lot of attention, and he did make a hole-in-one, and he did earn $2,544.
 
Thats my money. I earned this, he said at the time.
 
Funny. That little bit of money seemed to mean so much to someone who had just signed for $40 million with Nike and $3 million more with Titleist.
 
Woods has made a lot more money since then. Hes made a lot more money for a lot of people since then.
 
I thank God every day for Tiger Woods, Scott Hoch once said. Hes made us rich.
 
This Monday will mark Tigers official 10-year anniversary as a playing professional. Hes made enough money during that time to almost get this country out of debt. And, indeed, he has made golf such a popular sport that many others have become very wealthy by association.
 
His overall effect, of course, has far exceeded the financial realm. Hes made a social impact. His Tiger Woods Foundation and Tiger Woods Learning Center have literally altered thousands and thousands of lives, maybe even millions, for the better. Hes attracted those unfamiliar to the game ' and not just minorities, but boys and girls, men and women of all races and all ages. Hes transformed golf into more than just a fringe game ' hes popularized it to the masses, more so than any other individual, and made it, in his own words, a cool sport to play.
 
At this past PGA Championship, several players, Tiger included, were asked about how he has changed the game. They all pretty much said the same thing. They talked about the money. They talked about how players are now better conditioned. They talked about the exponential increase in popularity.
 
These things are pretty obvious, because we as fans have seen it ourselves over the last 10 years.
 
We all know how forceful Tigers impact has been on the game. And we all know about his accomplishments. We know the wins and the records.
 
We also know about the controversies ' the joke he made to GQ magazine; skipping out on the Fred Haskins Award dinner; snubbing President Clinton; shaking up his inner-circle; playing the race card in television commercials; changing his swing ' twice; Fuzzy Zoeller.
 
We dont need to rehash it all right here.
 
But it is interesting to look back, back 10 years ago when it all began. What were they saying then, back when Woods was just a very promising ' and very rich ' 20-year-old, one with a certain prideful parent.
 
It was Earl Woods who said in a Sports Illustrated interview in 96 that his son would do more than any other human in history to change the course of humanity. More than (anyone) because hes more charismatic, more educated, more prepared for this than anyone.
 
How about a little humility? But Earl, even if he had a few drinks that night, wasnt just being a boastful father. While his son hasnt quite reached the level of humanity of a Jesus or a Gandhi, he has done more on and off the course than many of us could have ever imagined.
 
Tiger once had a sit-down interview with Curtis Strange, back when Strange was working for ABC Sports. In the interview, Woods reiterated that he expects to win every time he competes. He famously said, 'Second sucks.'
 
Youll learn, Tiger. You'll learn, Strange replied, almost mocking him with a laugh.
 
As it turns out, he gave the lesson.
 
Loren Roberts won the Greater Milwaukee Open in 96. After his victory, he said, I heard where a couple of guys said they were in awe of him, and I think thats taking it too far. He plays just like the rest of us. Hes a great player, but he still has to go out and beat the other 150 of us.
 
Looking back, its easy to laugh at such a statement. But who could have imagined what Woods would do?
 
Even those predicting great things for him couldnt quite grasp how truly talented this young man was.
 
Take Johnny Miller. At the end of the 96 season, in which Woods won two of seven events to earn his TOUR playing status, Miller was asked if Tigers early success had surprised him and what he expected of his career.
 
Miller responded: Its going to be a pretty awesome future. He could be the greatest player there ever was. You have to think (hes) not going to (win) 20 majors, and hes probably not going to win 60 tournaments, but he could win 50 (events) and 12 (majors).
 
For completely different reasons, that probably sounded as ridiculous then as it does now ' and thats not an offense to Miller. Miller was making a bold statement back then, probably one that received a bit of ridicule. Now thats he's won 50 and 12 ' at the age of 30! ' hes a lock for 60 TOUR wins and a very good bet for 20 major victories.
 
Woods just wanted to win once. That was his goal when he turned pro, just so he could get his TOUR card and avoid Q-school. Five tournaments into his career, he nabbed that title in Las Vegas. Two weeks later, he won again at Disney and qualified for the TOUR Championship.
 
Winning on TOUR means everything. It proves to yourself and to everyone else that you belong. It changes the way others view you. And that was the case for Woods.
 
His quick and early success showed that he was more than just potential ' he was the goods. His peers now knew this. And they could only ponder how he would shape the future of the game.
 
I think, obviously, he has got a tremendous career, said Nicklaus, who predicted that Woods would win 10 Masters titles ' the same number as he and Arnold Palmer combined. Im very interested in his career. Very interested to see what he does.
 
I firmly believe that Tiger may be pushing us, said Tom Lehman, who was Player of the Year in 96, thanks to his Open Championship and TOUR Championship victories. Nobody wants to get passed over by a new person. It may come to a point where this new person is just so talented you cant help it, its unavoidable.
 
Said 1996 PGA champion Mark Brooks at that year's TOUR Championship: I guess the scariest thing is somebody overheard somebody in the locker room say he hasnt even shot his A game yet. Hes played nothing short of phenomenal at this point. And if hes got an A game that he hasnt shown yet, then were probably all in trouble.
 
They were. They still are.
 
There was a debate a few years ago, back in 2001, when Woods had just completed the Tiger Slam, as to whether or not he was good for the game. Was one mans dominance over an entire sport good for the sport itself?
 
That question should no longer be presentable.
 
Ten years ago, Woods was on the cusp of it all. He was just a skinny kid back then, wearing a shirt at least one size too large. He got giddy about things like being able to get a courtesy car even though he wasnt old enough to rent one. He discussed his affection for eating anything greasy. He talked about paying for dinner with gift certificates.
 
How it all has changed. The little things are now routine; not amusing. His body is now his temple. Money is no longer, and will never again be an issue.
 
Over the last decade, Woods has had numerous ups and a few downs. Hes been a lightning rod for lavish praise and biting criticism. He seems to have as many detractors as he does fans. And there is still some jealously among his peers, but much more awe and respect.
 
Without question, however, he has been good for the game. And the game has, undeniably, been very good to him.
 
A dream come true, Woods said in describing his career a few weeks ago. I did not think that in my wildest dreams I could actually have achieved what I've achieved so far.
 
As you look at my overall career, it's been a fantasy.
 
Fantasy is imagining 10 years ago that Woods could accomplish all that he has in such a short period of time. It's not fantasy anymore; it's reality.
 
Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs
 
Related Links:
  • Tiger Woods Bio
  • Tiger Woods Photo Gallery
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    After Further Review: Haas crash strikes a chord

    By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 19, 2018, 2:39 am

    Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.


    On the horrifying car crash involving Bill Haas ...

    I spent a lot of time this week thinking about Bill Haas. He was the passenger in a car crash that killed a member of his host family. That man, 71-year-old Mark Gibello, was a successful businessman in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and a new friend.

    Haas escaped without any major injuries, but he withdrew from the Genesis Open to return home to Greenville, S.C. When he’ll return to the Tour is anyone’s guess. It could be a while, as he grapples with the many emotions after surviving that horrifying crash – seriously, check out the photos – while the man next to him did not.

    The entire Haas clan is some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Wish them the best in their recovery. – Ryan Lavner


    On TIger Woods' missed cut at the Genesis Open ...

    After missing the cut at the Genesis Open by more than a few car lengths, Tiger Woods appeared to take his early exit in stride. Perhaps that in and of itself is a form of progress.

    Years ago, a second-round 76 with a tattered back-nine scorecard would have elicited a wide range of emotions. But none of them would have been particularly tempered, or optimistic, looking ahead to his next start. At age 42, though, Woods has finally ceded that a win-or-bust mentality is no longer helpful or productive.

    The road back from his latest surgery will be a winding one, mixed with both ups and downs. His return at Torrey Pines qualified as the former, while his trunk slam at Riviera certainly served as the latter. There will surely be more of both in the coming weeks and months, and Woods’ ability to stomach the rough patches could prove pivotal for his long-term prognosis. - Will Gray


    On the debate over increased driving distance on the PGA Tour ...

    The drumbeat is only going to get louder as the game’s best get longer. On Sunday, Bubba Watson pounded his way to his 10th PGA Tour title at the Genesis Open and the average driving distance continues to climb.

    Lost in the debate over driving distances and potential fixes, none of which seem to be simple, is a beacon of sanity, Riviera Country Club’s par-4 10th hole. The 10th played just over 300 yards for the week and yet yielded almost as many bogeys (86) as birdies (87) with a 4.053 stroke average.

    That ranks the 10th as the 94th toughest par 4 on Tour this season, ahead of behemoths like the 480-yard first at Waialae and 549-yard 17th at Kapalua. Maybe the game doesn’t need new rules that limit how far the golf ball goes, maybe it just needs better-designed golf holes. - Rex Hoggard


    On the depth of LPGA talent coming out of South Korea ...

    The South Korean pipeline to the LPGA shows no signs of drying up any time soon. Jin Young Ko, 22, won her LPGA debut as a tour member Sunday at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, and Hyejin Choi, 18, nearly won the right to claim LPGA membership there. The former world No. 1 amateur who just turned pro finished second playing on a sponsor exemption. Sung Hyun Park, who shared Rolex Player of the Year honors with So Yeon Ryu last year, is set to make her 2018 debut this week at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And Inbee Park is set to make her return to the LPGA in two weeks at the HSBC Women’s World Championship after missing most of last year due to injury. The LPGA continues to go through South Korea no matter where this tour goes. - Randall Mell

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    Nature calls: Hole-out rescues Bubba's bladder

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2018, 2:20 am

    LOS ANGELES – Clinging to a one-stroke lead, Bubba Watson had just teed off on the 14th hole at Riviera Country Club and was searching for a bathroom.

    “I asked Cameron [Smith], ‘where's the bathroom?’ He said, ‘On the next tee there's one. Give yourself a couple more shots, then you can go to the bathroom,’” Watson recalled. “I said, ‘So now I'm just going to hole it and go to the bathroom.’”

    By the time Watson got to his shot, which had found the bunker left of the green, his caddie Ted Scott had a similar comment.


    Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

    Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


    “When he went down to hit it I said, ‘You know you haven’t holed one in a long time,’” Scott said.

    Watson’s shot landed just short of the hole, bounced once and crashed into the flagstick before dropping into the hole for an unlikely birdie and a two-stroke lead that he would not relinquish on his way to his third victory at the Genesis Open and his 10th PGA Tour title.

    “I looked at Teddy [Scott] and said, ‘You called it.’ Then Cameron [who was paired with Watson] came over and said I called it. I’d forgotten he and I had talked about it,” Watson said.

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    Bubba Golf takes long road back to winner's circle

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2018, 1:55 am

    LOS ANGELES – Bubba’s back.

    It’s been just two years since he hoisted a trophy on the PGA Tour, but with a mind that moves as fast as Bubba Watson’s, it must have felt like an eternity.

    Since his last victory, which was also a shootout at Riviera Country Club in 2016, Watson was passed over for a captain’s pick at the 2016 Ryder Cup, endured a mystery illness, lost his confidence, his desire and the better part of 40 pounds.

    He admits that along that ride he considered retirement and wondered if his best days were behind him.

    “I was close [to retirement]. My wife was not close,” he conceded. “My wife basically told me to quit whining and play golf. She's a lot tougher than I am.”

    What else could he do? With apologies to his University of Georgia education and a growing portfolio of small businesses, Watson was made to be on the golf course, particularly a golf course like Riviera, which is the canvas that brings out Bubba’s best.

    In a game that can too often become a monotonous parade of fairways and greens, Watson is a freewheeling iconoclast who thrives on adversity. Where others only see straight lines and one-dimensional options, Bubba embraces the unconventional and the untried.

    For a player who sometimes refers to himself in the third person, it was a perfectly Bubba moment midway through his final round on Sunday at the Genesis Open. Having stumbled out of the 54-hole lead with bogeys at Nos. 3 and 6, Watson pulled his 2-iron tee shot wildly right at the seventh because, “[his playing partners] both went left.”

    From an impossible lie in thick rough with his golf ball 2 feet above his feet, Watson’s often-fragile focus zeroed in for one of the week’s most entertaining shots, which landed about 70 feet from the hole and led to a two-putt par.


    Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

    Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


    “His feel for that kind of stuff, you can’t go to the range and practice that. You can’t,” said Watson’s caddie Ted Scott. “Put a ball 2 feet above your feet and then have to hold the face open and then to swing that easy. That’s why I have the best seat in the house. That’s the essence of Bubba golf.”

    There were plenty of highlight moments on Sunday for Watson. There were crucial putts at Nos. 11 (birdie), 12 (par) and 13 (par) to break free of what was becoming an increasingly fluid leaderboard, and his chip-in birdie from a greenside bunker at the 14th hole extended his lead to two strokes.

    “It was just a bunker shot, no big deal,” smiled Watson, who closed with a 69 for a two-stroke victory over Kevin Na and Tony Finau.

    A player that can often appear handcuffed by the most straightforward of shots was at his best at Riviera, withstanding numerous challenges to win the Genesis Open for his 10th PGA Tour title.

    That he did so on a frenzied afternoon that featured four different players moving into, however briefly, at last a share of the lead, Watson never appeared rattled. But, of course, we all know that wasn’t the case.

    Watson can become famously uncomfortable on the course and isn’t exactly known for his ability to ignore distractions. But Riviera, where he’s now won three times, is akin to competitive Ritalin for Watson.

    “[Watson] feels very comfortable moving the ball, turning it a lot. That allows him to get to a lot of the tucked pins,” said Phil Mickelson, who finished tied for sixth after moving to within one stroke of the lead early in round. “A lot of guys don't feel comfortable doing that and they end up accepting a 15 to 30 footer in the center of the green. He ends up making a lot more birdies than a lot of guys.”

    It’s the soul of what Scott calls Bubba Golf, which is in simplest terms the most creative form of the game.

    Watson can’t explain exactly what Bubba Golf is, but there was a telling moment earlier this week when Aaron Baddeley offered Watson an impromptu putting lesson, which Bubba said was the worst putting lesson he’d ever gotten.

    “He goes, ‘how do you hit a fade?’ I said, ‘I aim it right and think fade.’ How do you hit a draw? I aim it left and think draw,” Watson said. “He said, ‘how do you putt?’ I said, ‘I don't know.’ He said, ‘well, aim it to the right when it breaks to the left, aim it to the left when it breaks to the right,’ exactly how you imagine your golf ball in the fairway or off the tee, however you imagine it, imagine it that way.”

    It’s certain that there’s more going on internally, but when he’s playing his best the sum total of Watson’s game can be simply explained – see ball, hit ball. Anything more complicated than that and he runs the risk of losing what makes him so unique and – when the stars align and a course like Riviera or Augusta National, where he’s won twice, asks the right questions – virtually unbeatable.

    That’s a long way from the depths of 2017, when he failed to advance past the second playoff event and dropped outside the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking. But then, Watson has covered a lot of ground in his career on his way to 10 Tour victories.

    “I never thought I could get there,” he said. “Nobody thought that Bubba Watson from Bagdad, Fla., would ever get to 10 wins, let's be honest. Without lessons, head case, hooking the ball, slicing the ball, can't putt, you know? Somehow we're here making fun of it.”

    Somehow, through all the adversity and distractions, he found a way to be Bubba again.

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    Spieth: 'I feel great about the state of my game'

    By Will GrayFebruary 19, 2018, 1:43 am

    LOS ANGELES – Jordan Spieth is starting to feel confident again with the putter, which is probably a bad sign for the rest of the PGA Tour.

    Spieth struggled on the greens two weeks ago at TPC Scottsdale, but he began to right the ship at Pebble Beach and cracked the top 10 this week at the Genesis Open. Perhaps more important than his final spot on the leaderboard was his standing in the strokes gained putting category – 12th among the field at Riviera Country Club, including a 24-putt performance in the third round.

    Spieth closed out the week with a 4-under 67 to finish in a tie for ninth, five shots behind Bubba Watson. But after the round he spoke like a man whose preparation for the season’s first major is once again right on track.


    Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

    Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


    “I was kind of, you know, skiing uphill with my putting after Phoenix and the beginning of Pebble week, and really just for a little while now through the new year,” Spieth said. “I just made some tremendous progress. I putted extremely well this week, which is awesome. I feel great about the state of my game going forward, feel like I’m in a great place at this time of the year as we’re starting to head into major season.”

    Spieth will take a break next week, and where he next tees it up remains uncertain. He still has not announced a decision about playing or skipping the WGC-Mexico Championship, and he will have until 5 p.m. ET Friday to make a final decision on the no-cut event.

    Whether or not he flies down to Mexico City, Spieth’s optimism has officially returned after a brief hiccup on the West Coast swing.

    “For where I was starting out Phoenix to where I am and how I feel about my game going forward the rest of the year, there was a lot of progress made,” he said. “Now I’ve just got to figure out what the best schedule is for myself as we head into the Masters.”