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Tiger Woods: My Clutch Shots

How they led to BIG wins—and how you can play them, too

May 2009
Tiger Woods clutch shots

2008 U.S. Open (above)

NO. 18
Torrey Pines (South Course)
La Jolla, Calif.

12-foot birdie putt to force playoff

THE SCENE:
Rocco [Mediate] was up by one and already in the clubhouse, so it was either make this slippery birdie putt and get into a playoff the next day or go home. I never considered the latter.

THE SHOT:
I played the putt about 2½ balls outside right. The green wasn't very smooth, so I kept telling myself to focus on making a pure stroke. If it bounces in or out, I thought, so be it -- at least I can hold my head up high. I made a good, solid stroke, and the ball dove into the right side of the cup.

THE LESSON:
When faced with a must-make putt, I always resort to fundamentals, starting with my pre-putt routine. It helps me stay in rhythm and block out distractions. I'm decisive on the line, and I trust my stroke. By keeping my head and eyes still through impact, I'm assured of making solid contact and starting the ball on my chosen line -- essential elements, especially when the pressure is intense.

2006 British Open

NO. 14
Royal Liverpool G.C.
Hoylake, England

4-iron to set up pivotal birdie

THE SCENE:
Chris DiMarco made a nice run to cut my three-shot lead to one with six holes to play. I still had the holes he was playing ahead of me, so I stuck to my game plan in the hot, dry conditions and hit a 2-iron off the tee on the 456-yard 14th hole.

THE SHOT:
For my approach, I had 191 yards into a pretty good wind. I decided to knock down a 4-iron. The ball stopped about eight feet from the hole. I made the birdie putt, and birdied the next two, as well.

THE LESSON:
To hit the knockdown, I set up with the ball slightly forward of center (my normal ball position for irons). Then I try to keep the clubface pointed more to the ground for a longer extension through the shot. By softening my elbows I can keep my hands leading the clubhead past impact to an abbreviated finish. I restrict lateral movement, which a lot of players use to "sit" on the ball. Instead, I release the club lower to produce a penetrating shot.

2005 Masters

NO. 16
Augusta National
G.C. Augusta, Ga.

Holed chip shot to maintain lead

THE SCENE: I had a one-stroke lead when Chris [DiMarco] hit it to 14 feet on the 16th for a good look at birdie. I overcooked an 8-iron long and left of the green and faced an extremely difficult up-and-down.

THE SHOT:
I remembered Davis Love chipping in from back there. I had about 30 feet to the hole, but I decided to throw it up on the hill and let it feed down. I aimed at a small area of light filtering between the trees. The ball started tracking to the hole—then hung on the edge of the cup, almost stopping, and went in.

THE LESSON:
I opened the face of my 60-degree wedge slightly, played the ball just back of center to keep it low and avoid the cut of rough behind my ball. I held my left wrist firm through impact to add sufficient spin. The key to making good contact was to maintain my spine angle through impact.

2002 U.S. Open

NO. 13
Bethpage Black
Farmingdale, N.Y.

2-iron to par 5 to set up late birdie

THE SCENE:
I had a two-shot lead over Phil [Mickelson] with some tough holes left. If he makes one or two more birdies coming in and I make a mistake, it could get a lot closer. I needed a birdie there for some cushion.

THE SHOT:
I hit a really nice drive that left me with a comfortable yardage, about 240 to the front of a slightly elevated green. I cut a little 2-iron in there to about 20 feet and two-putted for birdie.

THE LESSON:
The cut has become my go-to shot when I need to hoist the ball up in the air and land it softly on the green. I play it with a slightly open stance and swing along the line of my feet. The key is to delay the release through impact a fraction of a second. That imparts left-to-right spin for a slight fade, maybe five yards. It's a great control shot for me.

2000 PGA Championship

NO. 18
Valhalla G.C.
Louisville

Six-foot putt to force playoff

THE SCENE:
On the 72nd hole, Bob May rolled in a 15-footer, which I expected him to make. I needed to top it with my six-footer to send us to a three-hole playoff.

THE SHOT:
I had gotten a little too bold with my eagle putt and left the birdie putt in a tough spot. The neat thing is that I saw the line as it rolled by the hole, so I knew the break—about a ball from the left. I sneaked it in the left side and went on to win the playoff.

THE LESSON:
The toughest thing for me—and many right-handers—about a left-to-right breaker is releasing the putterhead adequately through impact. It's important, especially on shorter putts where the margin of error is small. Pick a spot to roll the ball over, and let the putterface close through the ball.

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