Woods joins the elite group of players who have shot 63 in a major -- and nearly does them one better
Tiger Woods knew he hit a good putt and as it approached the cup on the 18th hole at Southern Hills CC Friday afternoon, so did all those lining the green and watching around the world. If the ball disappeared, it would have meant a major-championship record 62, a score that would have put Woods in the books ahead of 20 other golfers, including most of the modern-day greats, from Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Raymond Floyd, to Nick Price, Greg Norman and Nick Faldo. It was a breathless moment on a sweltering, incandescent August afternoon in Tulsa as Woods' attempt at history went into its final approach, tracking those final six inches at what seemed like perfect speed for a clean entry into the left side of the hole.
Woods' putter went up, as positive a sign as any. Half the ball disappeared, down to the equator, and everyone watching awaited the familiar flurry of Tiger first pumps. And then, as if swatted by the hands of the golf gods, Tiger's ball horseshoed around the hole and spun right back at him.
"Mad," said Woods when asked to describe his emotions. In the press tent afterward, he tried to downplay the importance of the round, saying, "I was just trying to get myself back in this tournament. And lo and behold, here I am." More important than the record, said Woods, "A 62 would have meant I had a three-shot lead instead of a two-shot lead." Some eyes in the cynical media audience might have rolled, but this is how Woods -- who called the round a "62½" -- thinks. But don't assume for a second Tiger doesn't know his golf history. He reminded his listeners that Price had a putt for 62 on the last green of the third round of the 1986 Masters. "It horseshoed as well," said Woods. Price and Woods were not the only greats to have fate intervene on their way to golf's record book. At Baltusrol in the opening round of the 1980 U.S. Open, Nicklaus had a 2½-foot putt on the 18th green to shoot 62. He missed and later told Dave Anderson of The New York Times that he "babied it." Last Friday night from his home in North Palm Beach, Fla., Nicklaus was asked how something like that could occur, prompting the great one to admit, "I don't know. I probably choked. I was nervous, like you'd expect anyone to be."
Nerves didn't have anything to do with Norman's failed run at a 62, although trademark Norman overzealousness may have. Through 16 holes of the second round of the 1986 British Open at Turnberry (a par-70 layout), Norman was eight under. A par-par finish would have brought him home in 62. But Turnberry's 17th is a reachable par 5, and the 18th is a medium-length par 4. "I was thinking if I could finish eagle-birdie I'd shoot 59," said Norman. Instead, he made a disappointing par at 17, then three-putted 18 to miss the record by a stroke.