PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Hal Sutton beat Tiger Woods at his very best, a victory at The Players Championship that still resonates 10 years later.
Sutton was at TPC Sawgrass on Wednesday to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of his second and more memorable win on the Stadium Course. He recalled his famous “be the right club today” phrase, which he still gets asked about all the time, and weighed in on Woods’ recent struggles on and off the course.
Sutton made it clear he believes Woods is better equipped than anyone to overcome his problems and get back to playing the kind of golf that helped him dominate the PGA Tour.
“Tiger’s facing the greatest challenge,” said Sutton, who also won here in 1983. “Tiger meets every challenge with his head held high and knowing that he will overcome. He’s had better control of his mind than almost any player I’ve ever watched play the game.
“It’s very difficult and distracting to be able to take out of your mind things that are very important to you and do what he’s got to do right now. I think he’s facing his greatest challenge. I think he’s probably got more equipment to do this with than anybody else.”
Woods, playing in his second tournament since rampant extramarital affairs shattered his image, missed the cut at Quail Hollow by eight last week. He shot a 79 in the second round, the second-highest score in his 14 years on Tour. He has never missed consecutive cuts.
Sutton expects Woods to find a way to balance the selfishness needed to play well at this level and the humility needed to get his personal life straightened out.
“I’m sure Tiger will figure that out,” he said. “He’s figured everything else out.”
Woods didn’t figure out a way to beat Sutton in 2000. He needed a birdie on No. 18 for a chance at a playoff, but hit his approach into a swale near the green and chipped up for par.
Sutton hit next and knew the shot was good.
“Be the right club today,” he said as the ball took aim at the flag. It landed about 8 feet in front of the hole.
“The phrase … was just a moment of passion,” said Sutton, who once counted 36 times that he was asked about it one day. “It was never practiced or anything else. It was just what came out of my mouth when I saw it in the air.”
MILLER BASHING: As usual, NBC Sports analyst Johnny Miller had some advice for Tiger Woods: Ditch the driver for The Players Championship, then ditch swing coach Hank Haney.
Miller said the Stadium Course doesn’t require power off the tee, which is why past champions Woods and Phil Mickelson have had to “throttle way down with their games.”
“If I were caddying for Tiger on the first tee, I’d probably break the driver and just say, ‘Let’s go play,”’ Miller said. “Phil when he won was really throttling down with that baby cut and playing very conservative.”
Then came the dig at Haney.
“This might be a little harsh, but I really believe he needs to – every night – watch the U.S. Open in the year 2000 in Pebble and just copy that swing and forget the Haney stuff,” Miller said. “That was the best golf anybody has ever played in history.”
Woods, who was working with Butch Harmon at the time, won by a record 15 shots at Pebble Beach, where the U.S. Open returns next month.
SHUTTER TROUBLE: Tiger Woods isn’t the only player who has to deal with cameras.
Hunter Mahan stood over his tee shot on the 16th hole Wednesday morning when a fan with a professional camera – cameras are allowed during practice rounds – fired the shutter in the middle of his swing.
“Did you get that?” Mahan’s caddie, John Wood, said to the man.
“Do you prefer me not to do that?” the man responded.
“No, it’s perfect,” Mahan said sarcastically.
Apparently, the sarcasm was lost on the man, for when Woods stepped to the tee, he was at the top of the swing when the man took more pictures. Woods stopped and started laughing, along with the rest of the group.
“Thanks, Wood,” he said to Mahan’s caddie.
EXTRA PRACTICE: Ian Poulter played the Stadium Course hundreds of times before he ever walked it in person. Poulter said Wednesday he learned the layout by playing PlayStation.
“The island green, I’ve probably played more rounds of it on PlayStation as a kid than I ever have now,” he said. “I don’t play anymore, but I’m just saying as a kid, I mean, hours in a pro shop.”
He believes video games helped him learn the course faster than he would have normally. However, he’s more familiar with the back nine than the front.
“When you set it up, you always set it up to play the back nine, I guess, with the island green,” he said.
How did he fare on No. 17, the famed island green?
“I’ve made birdie there all the time on the computer,” he said.