Arnold Palmer bulled his way past a chubby Jack Nicklaus at the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills, but even in defeat the seeds were sown for the man who would set the standard for major greatness. Forty years later Nicklaus would give a ceremonial nod to Tiger Woods at the 2000 PGA Championship. On Sunday just the other side of Washington D.C.s Inner Loop the makings of a similar epiphany emerged.
The golf world has waited a dozen years for a challenger to the throne Woods assumed the moment he said, Hello world, and based on Anthony Kims passion, if not his game, there may finally be a legitimate heir to the contender title.
Kims game was nowhere near close enough to out-duel Woods at his own soiree, to say nothing of Hunter Mahans masterful 62 that lifted him from a tie for 16th into second place and perhaps front-runner status in the best player to not win a major category. But the kid who learned the game on the scruffy L.A. munis under the tough hand of a driven father learned something about himself and perhaps showed Woods something.
I know I can play at the highest level, said Kim, who began the final lap tied with Woods and briefly took the lead before his putter went cold and driver went left. I feel like Im one of the top players in the world. I just need to go out there and take care of those careless mistakes.
In golf there is no better on-the-job training than a one-on-one with Woods, who went birdie-birdie at Nos. 6 and 7 to go 2 up and withstood Mahans closing pyrotechnics to card Tour title No. 68 and, perhaps more importantly, his first victory at his keepsake stop.
The significance of Kims Congressional encounter ' his first pairing of any kind, be it friendly or otherwise, with Woods ' was not lost on the world No. 1.
As the two made their way up the 18th hole with Woods staked to a one-stroke lead and facing a 20-footer for par that screamed cozy, he drew his young pursuer close.
I enjoyed it, Woods told Kim. There will be many more to come. Just keep working hard, and well do this for many more years.
Whether Kims first head-to-head with golfs head of state is a harbinger of things to come remains to be seen, but the outcome does not blur the significance of the event.
All that promise that Kim showed in winning the mini-major combo last year at Quail Hollow and Congressional, the stuff that was cut short after his Ryder Cup heroics by a litany of nagging injuries, reemerged at Congressional.
Kim opened with a course-record 62, grinded out an even-par round with something less than his best stuff on Friday and wedged his way into the marquee matinee on Sunday with a third-round 68. The kid who would roll in putts in the L.A. twilight to beat Woods in fantasy championships all those years ago finally had his shot at the legend.
Anthonys a team guy. He grew up playing team sports and loves that head-to-head stuff, said Kims swing coach Adam Schreiber.
The Tours ShotLink system calls it left rough tendency. A sports psychologist would probably mark it down as nerves. Either way, after holding his own for four holes with Woods, Kim started slinging his drives left of House speaker Nancy Pelosi.
He missed the fairway left at Nos. 5, 11, 14, 16, 17 and 18 and yet still had his chances to catch Woods and Mahan but could never capitalize on key birdie opportunities.
Mahan, however, didnt have any problem turning the beastly Blue Course into a pitch and putt. The man who Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger rode as a secret weapon last fall turned quietly with a 3-under 32, but carded just two pars on the inward loop for a 12-under 268 total with the leaders finishing the 12th hole.
I dont know what golf course (Mahan) was playing, Woods said of Mahans round. I didnt see a 62 out there. He put a lot of pressure on Anthony and (me).
Mahan, who was done in at Bethpage by bad breaks and last week in Hartford by a red-hot Kenny Perry, spent the next hour waiting for Woods, who, on cue, did what Woods does on Sundays.
It was funny, said Mahan, who hasnt finished worse than sixth in his last three starts. I was watching with Elin (Woods) and then when (Woods) missed on 14 I yelled, yes, in a joking manner. It was funny because you usually dont see him miss putts.
At least not putts that count, like the curling 20-footer for birdie he faced on the 16th with two demanding par-4s waiting and a share of the lead. But then no one responds to a competitive nudge more thoroughly than Woods.
For the third time this season Woods delivered a dramatic performance with a birdie at the 16th. Two fairways, two greens and four putts later hed secured the third leg of the Legends Slam following victories at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Nicklaus Memorial Tournament.
Its also the third time this year Woods has won in his major tune-up. Or maybe he was inspired by good friend Roger Federer, who held off Andy Roddick in a marathon final at Wimbledon, and simply refused to be the gracious host.
The victory moves Federer one clear of Woods in Grand Slam hauls, 14 to 15, a statistic Woods is sure to hear about. Before he teed off he fired Federer a foreshadowing text: Great job. Now its my turn.
Hell get a chance to square his major match with Federer in two weeks at Turnberry. And if Kims play at Congressional is any indication Woods may soon end up with someone to chase history with in his own sport.