Tiger's Bonehead Move
In a year of major collapses, revisiting what could have been Tiger Woods' most regrettable decision
Adam Scott's meltdown in last month's British Open was another reminder of how quickly things can fall apart in the pressure-packed atmosphere of major championship golf.
Which makes Tiger Woods' actions -- seven years ago at the PGA Championship at Baltusrol -- all the more mind-boggling given Woods' knowledge of the numerous collapses in the four majors, coupled with his obsession with besting Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major victories.
To recap: The final round was suspended (threat of thunderstorms and lack of daylight) on Sunday with the leader, Phil Mickelson, at four under through 13 holes, putting for par on the 14th green. At the time play was suspended, six other players were still on the course, within three shots of Phil, including Davis Love, Steve Elkington, Thomas Bjorn, Vijay Singh and Retief Goosen.
Tiger? He had completed play shortly before the horn sounded, finishing with 68 for a two-under total of 278, having finished up with birdies on the 17th and 18th holes.
He was the leader in the clubhouse.
So what did Tiger do Sunday evening, two shots off the lead with the leaders needing to finish up to five holes the next morning? He headed to a nearby regional airport, boarded his private jet and flew home to Orlando.
Not surprisingly, there was plenty of ebb-and-flow action on the final holes Monday morning. When Phil reached the tee of the par-5 18th -- reachable in two shots at 554 yards -- he was tied for the lead at three under with Elkington and Bjorn, both of whom had, minutes earlier, missed birdie putts on the 18th. Phil pulled off one of his trademark flop shots out of the thick greenside rough to within tap-in distance of the hole for a birdie 4 and a winning score of 276 -- two strokes better than Tiger.
When the media caught up with Tiger a few days later he was asked if his Sunday departure was a risk. His answer:
"Yeah, it was, but also it really wasn't, either. These are the best players in the world. Look at who's on that board. It wasn't like guys who have never been there before. If you have guys who had never been there before, then it might have been a different story."
And that, pretty much, was the end of the story since this was at a time when Tiger was an athlete in full, and his golf-related decisions and actions were rarely questioned with any vigor.
But, oh, to have been a fly on the wall near Tiger's TV set in Orlando as he watched the Monday telecast. At some point, a feeling of dread must have set in as he realized that he might be in a three-hole play-off; and that he'd be about 1,000 miles away when he was called to the tee.
The fact that it didn't happen makes it easy to forget and gloss over. But if Tiger Woods had been MIA for a playoff for a major championship, he would have gone down as the guy who made the dumbest purposeful decision in the history of professional sport. Not just golf -- any sport.
Epilogue: Phil, the next year, came to the final hole at the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, leading by a stroke, only to mangle the 18th with an ugly double-bogey which prompted him to label himself "an idiot" and add to his resume of disappointing second-place finishes in the National Open.
David Fay is the former executive director of the USGA.