Monday, June 14, 2010

The (Last) Nike One

As we roll into US Open week at Pebble, there will be plenty o' retelling of Tiger's amazing week here a decade ago.

The 15 shot margin is a US Open record, and may stand until long after I am dead.

But among the tidbits from that year's Open, this little nugget about how Stevie Williams almost committed the gaffe of a century for a caddy, deserves the full explanation.

John Hawkins produces this EXCELLENT PIECE for Golfweek that describes just exactly how Tiger came down to his LAST GOLF BALL while standing on the 18th hole during Round #2.

Sadly, as I had heard this story before, it was my understanding that Tiger would have been automatically DQ'd if he ran out of balls. The fact that Hawkins debunks that bit of lore with the explanation of 2 stroke penalties instead, makes it a touch less dramatic.

Still, it's as good of a "golf story" as you'll ever read. Here's the key excerpt...

On the 13th tee, Williams realized that three of the six balls previously in Tiger’s bag had been left on the floor in Woods’ room. No big deal, at least until Woods staked his approach at the 15th, rolled in another 10-footer for birdie, then flipped the ball to a kid as he walked off the green.

Williams was getting nervous. “All I could say to myself was, ‘How am I going to get that ball back?’ We play 16 and 17, no problem, and I wanted him to hit an iron off 18, anyway. He’s got a seven-stroke lead, but he says, ‘Give me that (bleeping) driver’ and hits it left. Now we’re down to one ball and there’s water in play on the second shot.”

As his drive sailed toward the Pacific Ocean, Woods unleashed a couple of choice obscenities for those watching at home on NBC. What he didn’t know is that he was about to hit his last Nike One. Williams never mentioned it. Again, the caddie suggested an iron. Again, Woods chose the driver and launched a towering fade to the right half of the fairway. Despite bogeys on both back-nine par 5s, he was in with a 69, his lead still six.

Woods didn’t find out about the shortage of balls until after the tournament, and only then, it was because he asked Williams why he seemed so anxious at the end of the second round. The two men still laugh about it, but if Woods had run out of ammo, it’s doubtful he would have found anything funny about his options as designated by the USGA’s one-ball rule.

He could have sent Williams to the pro shop to buy a sleeve, but because Woods always has played a ball designed specifically for him – not sold to the public – there would have been a penalty involved. Williams could have gone back to Woods’ room and fetched the missing Nikes, which might have led to a penalty for delay of play, or he could have simply borrowed a Top-Flite from Furyk or a Titleist from Parnevik at the cost of two shots per hole (with a maximum four-shot penalty).

You know what’s really amazing?

Woods could have played all six holes that morning with someone else’s ball, absorbed the punishment and still won by 11.

FOOTNOTE: I really WOULD have loved to see Stevie huff it all the way up 18 on foot to the pro-shop, then hoof it all the way back, redfaced and sweaty. Wouldn't you? Frankly, I'm suprised he didn't punch the kid in the mouth who Tiger flipped the ball to, and said: "Not today, Junior. We're gonna need that pearl!"

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