Reliving Tiger's PGA Tour debut at Riviera

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 13, 2017, 8:00 pm

Before “Hello, world,” there was an even more audacious introduction.

It began in the fall of 1990. Preparations were already underway for the Nissan Los Angeles Open, to be played the following February at glamorous Riviera Country Club, and tournament officials grappled with how to allocate the sponsor exemptions. Rather than burn one of their precious invites on an aging warrior in need of a competitive lifeline, tournament director Greg McLaughlin zeroed in on a local 14-year-old who was a former child celebrity and current junior world-beater.

Here was a chance not only to raise awareness regionally but also make a splash nationally – offering a spot in one of the PGA Tour’s premier events in one of the country’s biggest markets to a black prodigy who would make history as the youngest to appear in a tournament.

It was a brilliant public-relations move. The golf equivalent, McLaughlin would say later, of giving Picasso a paintbrush at age 12 … except the rest of the committee, including chairman Mark Kuperstock, scoffed at the idea.

Tiger Woods?

Pass.

“There were a bunch of people saying, ‘Are you out of your mind?’” McLaughlin says. “It took a bit of a leap of faith.”

And 69 strokes of serendipity. The week of the ’91 event, McLaughlin read in the Los Angeles Times how Woods, then a freshman at Western High in Anaheim, had nearly earned his own way through a 132-man qualifier. On the par-5 18th hole at Los Serranos, Woods was told that a closing birdie would secure one of the two available spots. From a tight, downhill lie, he needed to carry his second shot 250 yards to clear the pond fronting the green. A lay-up was the prudent choice, but he instead grabbed 3-wood. He caught it fat, and his ball one-hopped into the water. His 5-under 69 on the par-74 layout wasn’t enough to qualify, but it didn’t go unnoticed.

“Look at this!” McLaughlin hollered at tournament headquarters. “He almost qualified at 15!”

Now, even Kuperstock was convinced.

And so, in the fall of ’91, a year later than he wanted, McLaughlin finally extended the invitation to Woods’ father, Earl.

There was a long pause on the phone.

“Sir,” Earl Woods said, “my son would be honored to play in the Los Angeles Open.”


Photo gallery: Tiger's pro debut at the '92 L.A. Open


THE GOLF COMMUNITY IN Southern California was well aware of the kid from Cypress with the 1-iron build and massive trophy collection. After all, it was legendary KCBS sportscaster Jim Hill who first put Woods on camera, in 1978, after Earl called the station and raved about his 2-year-old son’s singular talent. Tiger played a hole at the Navy Golf Course near Long Beach, and at the conclusion of his piece, Hill declared, “This young man is going to be to golf what Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert are to tennis.”

“People say that Tiger had natural ability, that God gave him the ability to play golf,” says Don Crosby, Woods’ high school coach at Western. "No. God gave him a work ethic, and he put that work ethic to good use. Even at a young age he was the hardest worker I’d ever seen.”

That extensive preparation carried over to Woods’ Tour debut. In 1992, Peter Oosterhuis, who later became an analyst for CBS Sports, was the director of golf at Riviera. Before the L.A. Open, he hosted Woods and his sports psychologist, Jay Brunza, for a casual round.

“My first impression was, This kid is focused,” Oosterhuis wrote in Golf Digest in 2015. “He was polite but talked very little. He studied the green complexes intently; hit drives to different parts of the fairways. It was exactly the way an experienced pro prepares for a tournament. He hit the ball a mile, he hit it high, and he knew what he was doing. He was the most confident 16-year-old I’d ever seen.”

By tournament week, players in the locker room were buzzing about the high school sophomore. “There was resentment to the attention he was getting, probably more than anything,” says Mark Carnevale, the 1992 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year. “Some of the guys were like, ‘Who the hell is this guy and why he is playing in this event?’ You could sense there was some of that.”

Says McLaughlin: “A lot of it was the curiosity factor. It’s hard to move the needle in that town, but once tournament week began, it was a really big story nationally within golf, and to some extent sports.”

Woods was scheduled to play with Paul Azinger and actor Peter Falk during the Wednesday pro-am, but Azinger withdrew because of an injury. A Tour official asked Gary Hallberg if he would cancel his afternoon plans and fill the spot. “I thought it would be kinda cool,” he says now. “Tiger was almost like this fictitious figure.”

Tucked next to the clubhouse, Riviera’s first tee is one of the most grandiose settings in golf, and fans crammed onto the veranda to watch the precocious talent. Sam Snead had flown into town that day as the tournament’s special honoree, and he posted up behind the tee to offer some encouragement to Woods.

“He wasn’t nervous at all,” says his caddie from that day, Ron "Graphite" Matthews. “He looked at it as just another day at a tournament.”

Hallberg teed off on the short par-5 opener and noticed that Woods was also about to start from the tips.

“Tiger, you get to tee off way down there,” Hallberg said, pointing to the lower tee about 60 yards ahead.

“I know,” Woods said, “but I’m going to play back here with you.”

“Really? But we could do well as a team if you just play back there.”

“No, Gary,” Woods insisted. “I’m playing here with you.”

Of course, moments later, Woods hit a long, towering hook that sailed into the corporate tents, out of bounds. He pulled 3-wood the rest of the week.

Even in his first big-league start, Woods understood all of the Tour’s unwritten rules: how to act, where to stand, when to finish out. “At 16, he was like a pro,” says Hallberg, even if Woods didn’t look like one, sporting a clip-on credential on his left pants pocket, like the Monday qualifiers.

“My expectation was that he was going to be really something else,” says Hallberg, 58, “and he was even more than I thought.”

At one point, Hallberg, in his 13th season on Tour, decided to share some life advice with the aspiring pro – unsolicited. “I said, ‘Tiger, you’re 16, you’re still a young man, you’re going to discover girls, and life is going to throw a lot at you, so you’ve just got to stay focused. Golf is a lifetime game. Keep your nose to the grindstone and you’re going to do just fine.’

“And he was staring at me like, 'Hey, old man, I’ve got this, OK?'”

According to newspaper reports, Woods shot 76 in the pro-am, though Hallberg remembers a hotly contested match with both players around even par. Either way, as Woods signed autographs afterward he was asked by a reporter if he’d be intimidated in his Tour debut.

“By who?” Woods said. “This isn’t that big a tournament, like the Masters or the U.S. Open, and I’m trying to keep it that way. It’s a regular tournament. And I’m just the local hero, or guy.”

Though Tiger possessed a quiet assuredness, his father, a former Green Beret lieutenant colonel, was a fierce promoter. On the eve of the tournament, Earl told The New York Times of his son: “He’s going to blow a lot of people’s minds.”



WHEN THE PAIRINGS FOR the L.A. Open were unveiled on Tuesday, Bob Friend immediately began to fret. As a Tour rookie, each early-season start was crucial, because he needed to earn enough money to survive the first reshuffle. His year had gotten off to a rocky start, with a pair of missed cuts and two other finishes outside the top 40. And now he was grouped with Woods, along with second-year pro Dicky Thompson.

“What had me concerned had nothing to do with Tiger,” Friend says, “but the people who were going to be following him. They’re not going to have the highest golf IQ. It was kind of the John Daly effect: Every week he played, he brought with him the NASCAR crowd. They didn’t know how to act at a tournament, and the other two playing partners were like vapors.

“I’m thinking to myself, Am I going to be able to get my work done? Is it going to be a zoo? And it sure was.”

In the opening round, Woods teed off at 8:28 a.m. – during advanced geometry, the high school class he was skipping. Riviera was teeming with fans of all ages, roughly 2,000 in all, including some of his teammates and classmates. “He had a whole fan club at Western,” says Crosby, 75. “I called in sick one of the days and just hoped that I didn’t get on TV.”

Woods has struggled with opening tee shots his entire career, but this one he smoked down the center. “As I took the club back, I’ve never felt a club weigh that much,” he says. “I’ve never felt nerves like that.”

Says Hill: “We were all holding our breath. I could hear some people say, ‘Please let him hit it right down the middle.’ And Tiger did himself proud.”

Woods birdied the soft opening hole.

“This is great,” he told himself. “This is how you want to start off your PGA Tour career.”

But on the second hole, a beefy par 4, Woods overcooked his tee shot near the fence that borders the driving range. When he tried to punch out behind a row of oleanders, his shot caught the curb of the cart path and bounced back toward him. He still had 170 yards, uphill, for his third shot, and a few branches restricted his backswing. No matter. He lofted a high, sweeping 8-iron to 4 feet. “Amazing shot,” Matthews marvels, even now. It was one of several otherworldly pars that week, each capped by a clawing gesture called the Tiger Paw. (Alas, it didn’t stick.)

But Woods’ play wasn’t the only adventure inside the ropes – a mob of media created a logistical nightmare. With about 50 writers, photographers, cameramen and even a few TMZ-types jostling for position, the three players repeatedly backed off their shots. So chaotic was the scene, three security guards joined the group at the turn to shield them from the stampede.

“On the seventh hole, I had a 20-foot birdie putt from the fringe and Tiger was waiting, leaning on his putter across the green,” Friend says. “I got down behind the ball, on a little crown, and a photographer crossed in front of me when I was reading the putt – literally walked between me and the ball and started taking pictures of Tiger from across the green.

“I said to him, ‘Are you kidding me?!’ My caddie grabbed him by the shoulders and told him to go over there. But it was like that for two days. It was insane.”

What struck Friend was Woods’ poise in the unseemly environment. He recalled his first time on a big stage, the 1984 U.S. Open, when he was a 20-year-old college junior. Lee Trevino’s group was coming up Winged Foot’s adjacent ninth hole when Friend’s name was announced on the first tee. Hundreds of fans turned to their left to watch the amateur begin his day. “I just about soiled myself,” he says. “But Tiger didn’t show any nervousness at any time. He looked like he belonged.”

Woods dazzled with his imagination and scrambling, but on the 11th hole, he wrenched his back while trying to gouge his ball out of deep rough on a severe uphill lie. (He received treatment after the round.) He still made nine consecutive pars to close, but lipping out an 8-footer on 18 soured his mood, even as the crowd yelled, “You da kid!” His opening, 1-over 72 – three shots off his goal for the day – left him eight back.

“They list all the great achievements that he had in his career, but when you really start thinking about it, that was probably one a lot of people forgot,” McLaughlin says. “A 72 on Day 1 at Riviera, at age 16, right out of the gate? Unbelievable.”

Ill-prepared for the media crush, tournament officials orchestrated a makeshift news conference by the main scoring area, with Woods hopping onto a riser to answer questions from a hundred reporters. It was the first glimpse into the all-consuming Tigermania coverage – Carnevale, who was one back after an opening 65, doesn’t recall speaking to a single reporter after his round.

After a few clipped responses, Tiger retreated to the player dining area, where he scarfed down a cheeseburger. “I could tell how proud Earl was,” McLaughlin says. “He hugged him and was almost in tears. It was the first time that I’d seen Earl really touched and excited.”

Outside with reporters, however, the sentimentality disappeared. “You haven’t seen the real Tiger yet,” Earl warned. “He has an awful lot more to his game than he showed today. That’s not putting pressure on him. That’s a fact.”



UNFORTUNATELY, NOT EVERYONE WANTED to see the real Tiger.

A series of racially charged voicemails had been left at tournament headquarters, with the caller threatening Woods’ life and admonishing the chairman for inviting a minority player. With Woods off late Friday, McLaughlin huddled with his internal security team to discuss the threat, then approached Earl once he arrived at the course. Even more security was dispatched, but Earl didn’t tell Tiger about the incident until after the tournament. A year later, Woods told the Los Angeles Times: “I guess Dad didn’t want me to lose my focus.”

Any cut-line suspense ended early on Day 2. Crooked off the tee – he found just 10 of 28 fairways for the week – Woods mixed five bogeys and a birdie for a second-round 75 and a two-round total of 147, leaving him six shots above the cut line and 17 behind halfway leader Davis Love III. (Woods was 125th out of 143 players.) Perhaps not surprisingly, none of the other players in the featured group made the cut, either.

“It was a learning experience,” he said afterward, “and I learned that I wasn’t that good.”

Woods was smiling and more relaxed when he met with the media after his second round, and seemingly every reporter dutifully noted that the kid had another event the following week, with much less at stake – a nine-hole match against Gahr High. (Woods shot 2 over and Western prevailed, 209-226.) But the constant attention and scrutiny proved exhausting. By the end of the week he signed autographs as only “Tiger,” apparently to conserve energy. His world was forever changed.

“Seriously, I would like to stand behind the curtain a little longer,” he said. “But I guess this tournament brought me out.”

Woods, the most ballyhooed junior since Jack Nicklaus, left a lasting impression on his fellow playing competitors and observers during his short stay at Riviera – with the exception of two-time major champion Sandy Lyle, who was asked what he knew about Woods: “Is that a golf course?”

Says Friend, 53: “If you’d asked me what his career would be like when he’s finished, I’d have said he’s definitely going to win majors, and win a lot of tournaments, and have a career like Davis Love III. It’d be a wonderful career. But at 16, it’s hard to say he’s going to be the greatest of all time, or the second greatest.”

Legendary sportswriter Jim Murray went even further, predicting superstardom in his column for the L.A. Times: “So, in a very important way, you won the L.A. Open. I hope you like it in the limelight because it looks as if that is where you will spend your career. The game is starved for a hero and it looks like you are elected.”

Woods made his first pro start in August 1996, in Milwaukee – “Hello, world” – but over the years he never forgot the courtesy extended to him as a high school sophomore.

As the game’s biggest draw in the late ’90s, Woods appeared each summer in the Western Open, the Chicago-area event run by McLaughlin. Having gained the family’s trust, McLaughlin was a logical choice as president and CEO of the Tiger Woods Foundation, a position he held from 2000-14, when he left to become commissioner of the PGA Tour Champions.

Woods and Hill reconnect every year. Last month, during media day for the Genesis Open at Riviera (which Woods’ foundation now runs), Hill showed Woods the infamous outtake from the ’78 feature, in which young Tiger sat on his father’s lap and, when asked by Hill whether he liked golf, responded: “I’ve gotta go poo-poo.”

“Over the years I kept going back to that poo-poo tape,” Hill says, “because that’s what he was doing to the rest of the guys on the PGA Tour. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime athlete. He’s a gift from the sports gods.”

Woods and Matthews crossed paths again a decade later, when the curtain had long since been lifted. They reminisced for five minutes at Bay Hill before heading their separate ways, this time for good. “I think about that week a little,” says Matthews, 68, “but you tell people you caddied for him once and they don’t believe you.”

Friend never played with Woods again, but 25 years later, the memories of that milestone event – the gray slacks, the striped shirt, the fireman-style hat, the recovery shots, the police escort, the media craze and the palpable buzz – remain as vivid as ever.

“It’s history, the first one,” Friend says. “Every time Riviera comes on, I tell my kids: Hey, your father is the answer to a trivia question.”

Cut Line: Lyle faces third bout with cancer

By Rex HoggardNovember 24, 2017, 5:40 pm

In this week’s holiday edition, Cut Line is thankful for the PGA Tour’s continued progress on many fronts and the anticipation that only a Tiger Woods return can generate.

Made Cut

The Fighter. That was the headline of a story Cut Line wrote about Jarrod Lyle following his second bout with cancer a few years ago, so it’s both sad and surreal to see the affable Australian now bracing for a third fight with leukemia.

Lyle is working as an analyst for Channel 7’s coverage of this week’s Emirates Australian Open prior to undergoing another stem cell transplant in December.

“I’ve got a big month coming,” Lyle said. “I’m back into hospital for some really heavy-duty treatment that’s really going to determine how things pan out for me.”

Twice before things have panned out for Lyle. Let’s hope karma has one more fight remaining.

Changing times. Last season the PGA Tour introduced a policy to add to the strength of fields, a measure that had long eluded officials and by most accounts was a success.

This season the circuit has chosen to tackle another long-standing thorn, ridiculously long pro-am rounds. While there seems little the Tour can do to speed up play during pro-am rounds, a new plan called a 9&9 format will at least liven things up for everyone involved.

Essentially, a tournament hosting a pro-am with four amateurs can request the new format, where one professional plays the first nine holes and is replaced by another pro for the second nine.

Professionals will have the option to request 18-hole pro-am rounds, giving players who limit practice rounds to just pro-am days a chance to prepare, but otherwise it allows Tour types to shorten what is an admittedly long day while the amateurs get a chance to meet and play with two pros.

The new measure does nothing about pace of play, but it does freshen up a format that at times can seem tired, and that’s progress.

Tweet of the week: @Love3d (Davis Love III‏) “Thanks to Dr. Flanagan (Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center) for the new hip and great care! Can’t wait to get back to (the PGA Tour).”

Love offered the particularly graphic tweet following hip replacement surgery on Tuesday, a procedure that he admitted he’d delayed because he was “chicken.”

The surgery went well and Love is on pace to return to the Tour sometime next spring. As for the possibility of over-sharing on social media, we’ll leave that to the crowd.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Distance control. The Wall Street Journal provided the octagon for the opening blows of a clash that has been looming for a long time.

First, USGA executive director Mike Davis told The Journal that the answer to continued distance gains may be a restricted-flight golf ball with an a la carte rule that would allow different organizations, from the Tour all the way down to private clubs, deciding which ball to use.

“You can’t say you don’t care about distance, because guess what? These courses are expanding and are predicted to continue to expand,” Davis said. “The impact it has had has been horrible.”

A day later, Wally Uihlein, CEO of Acushnet, which includes the Titleist brand, fired back in a letter to The Journal, questioning among other things how distance gains are putting a financial burden on courses.

“The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate,” Uihlein wrote.

For anyone paying attention the last few years, this day was inevitable and the likely start of what will be a drawn out and heated process, but Cut Line’s just not sure anyone wins when it’s over.

Tiger, take II. Tiger Woods’ return to competition next week at the Hero World Challenge was always going to generate plenty of speculation, but that hyperbole reached entirely new levels this week as players began giving personal accounts of the new and improved 14-time major champion.

“I did talk to him, and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years,’” Day said as he prepared for the Australian Open. “If he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.”

Rickie Fowler added to the frenzy when he was asked this month if the rumors that Woods is driving the ball by him, by 20 to 30 yards by some reports, are true?

“Oh, yeah,” he told Golf.com. “Way by.”

Add to all this a recent line that surfaced in Las Vegas that Woods is now listed at 20-1 to win a major in 2018, and it seems now may be a good time for a restraint.

Golf is better with Woods, always has been and always will be, but it may be best to allow Tiger time to find out where his body and game are before we declare him back.


Missed Cut

Searching for answers. Twelve months ago, Hideki Matsuyama was virtually unstoppable and, regardless of what the Official World Golf Ranking said, arguably the best player on the planet.

Now a year removed from that lofty position, which featured the Japanese star finishing either first or second in six of his seven starts as the New Year came and went, Matsuyama has faded back to fifth in the world and on Sunday finished fifth, some 10 strokes behind winner Brooks Koepka, at the Dunlop Phoenix.

“That hurt,” Matsuyama told the Japan Times. “I don’t know whether it’s a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well. It seems there are many issues to address.”

Since his last victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Matsuyama has just two top-10 finishes on Tour and he ended his 2016-17 season with a particularly poor performance at the Presidents Cup.

While Matsuyama’s take seems extreme considering his season, there are certainly answers that need answering.

Trump playing 'quickly' with Tiger, DJ

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 24, 2017, 1:33 pm

Updated at 11:14 a.m. ET

An Instagram user known as hwalks posted photos to her account that included images of Tiger Woods, President Trump and Dustin Johnson Friday at Trump National, as well as video of Woods' swing.



Original story:

Tiger Woods is scheduled to make his return to competition next week at his Hero World Challenge. But first, a (quick) round with the President.

President Donald Trump tweeted on Friday that he was going to play at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Fla., alongside Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.



Woods and President Trump previously played last December. Trump, who, according to trumpgolfcount.com has played 75 rounds since taking over the presidency, has also played over the last year with Rory McIlroy, Ernie Els and Hideki Matsuyama.

Chawrasia leads major champs in Hong Kong

By Associated PressNovember 24, 2017, 1:19 pm

HONG KONG – S.S.P. Chawrasia extended his lead at the Hong Kong Open to two strokes Friday after a 4-under 66 in the second round.

Chawrasia, who had led by one at the Hong Kong Golf Club, is at 9-under 131 overall and took as much as a five-stroke lead at one point.

''Yesterday I was putting very well, and today, also I make some up and downs. I saved a couple of short putts. That's why I think I'm leading by two shots most probably,'' the Indian said. ''The next two days, I'm just looking forward.''


Full-field scores from the UBS Hong Kong Open


Thomas Aiken (64) is second, followed by Alexander Bjork (66), Joakim Lagergren (66), Poom Saksansin (68) and Julian Suri (67) at 5 under 135.

Aiken's round was the lowest of the tournament.

''It is tough out there. The greens are really firm. You've got to hit the fairway,'' Aiken said. ''If you get above the holes, putts can get away from you.''

Justin Rose (69) had six birdies, but three bogeys and a double-bogey at the par 3 12th kept him at 3 under for the tournament.

Masters champion Sergio Garcia (71), playing for the first time in Hong Kong, was at even par, as was defending champion Sam Brazel (71) and 2014 champion Scott Hend (67).

''I have to play better,'' Garcia said. ''The way I felt like I played, it's difficult. This kind of course, you need to play well to shoot a good score.''

Day (68) just one back at Australian Open

By Nick MentaNovember 24, 2017, 6:40 am

Jason Day posted a second-round 68 to move himself just one off the lead held by Lucas Herbert through two rounds at the Emirates Australian Open. Here’s where things stand after 36 holes in Sydney.

Leaderboard: Herbert (-9), Day (-8), Cameron Davis (-7), Anthony Quayle (-6), Matt Jones (-4), Cameron Smith (-4), Nick Cullen (-4), Richard Green (-4)

What it means: Day is in search of his first worldwide victory of 2017. The former world No. 1 last visited the winner’s circle in May 2016, when he won The Players at TPC Sawgrass. A win this week would close out a difficult year for the Aussie who struggled with his game while also helping his mother in her battle with cancer. Day’s last victory on his native soil came in 2013, when he partnered with Adam Scott to win the World Cup of Golf for Australia at Royal Melbourne.


Full-field scores from the Emirates Australian Open


Round of the day: Herbert followed an opening 67 with a round of 66 to vault himself into the lead at The Australian Golf Club. He made six birdies, including four on his second nine, against a lone bogey to take the outright lead. The 22-year-old, who held the lead at this event last year and captured low-amateur honors in 2014, is coming off a runner-up finish at the NSW Open Championship, which boosted him from 714th to 429th in the Official World Golf Ranking. His 5-under score was matched by Dale Brandt-Richards and Josh Cabban.

Best of the rest: Matt Jones, who won this event over Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott two years ago, turned in 4-under 67. Jones is best known to American audiences for his playoff victory at the 2014 Shell Houston Open and for holding the 36-hole lead at the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, which was eventually won by Day. Jones will start the weekend five shots off the lead, at 4 under par.

Biggest disappointment: Spieth has a lot of work to do this weekend if he expects to be in the title picture for the fourth year in a row. Rounds of 70-71 have him eight shots behind the lead held by Herbert. Spieth made a birdie and a bogey on each side Friday to turn in level par. The reigning champion golfer of the year has finished first, second and first at this event over the last three years.

Storyline to watch this weekend: The Australian Open is the first event of the 2018 Open Qualifying Series. The leading three players who finish in the top 10 and who are not otherwise exempt will receive invites into next summer’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.