Rose tinted spectacles at the ready….
The hardest hole on a course called the ‘Blue Monster’ is enough to fill anyone with dread. Not only that, but in 2004, it was the toughest hole on tour, with a scoring average of 4.48, comprised, in part, by the 125 bogeys, 53 double bogeys, and four ‘others’ that were recorded during the Ford Championship. With some parallels to the 18th at Firestone, there is water all the way down the left, and if you happen to find the fairway, you are left with a lengthy approach to a green surrounded by water, sand and heavy rough. In 2004, Craig Parry and Scott Verplank are tied for the lead after 72 holes. Both find the fairway on the first play-off hole, and Parry is set to play first. He is talked out of hitting a five iron by his brother and caddy, and casually strikes a perfect six iron, lands it six feet short of the pin, and listens to the crowd tell him that it has ended up in the cup. Even Verplank is forced into a smile, and concedes: “I guess he was supposed to win.”
According to David Fehrety, Woods’ approach to the 18th at Bethpage Black, from 210 yards out of a fairway bunker, was the “most remarkable piece of athleticism I’ve ever seen on a golf course.” Surely no-one can dispute such a claim. His drive has finished in the left hand side of the bunker, severely restricting his stance. He has a hanging lie, an uphill, 210-yard second, and a 30mph left-to-right wind to contend with. Somehow, he manages to mould himself to the slope, create hook spin and land the ball fifteen feet from the pin. “The best part about it”, said Woods, “is that I made the putt,” – a putt that gave him a three-shot victory. A remarkable golf shot that very few, if any, would have attempted, let alone pull off and turn into a birdie three.
Much to the dismay of English and European golf fans, Justin Leonard’s putt to win the 1999 Ryder Cup has to be included. Context also makes his putt even more special. The US trailed 10-6 after the first two days, leaving a deficit that had never been overcome on Sunday in Ryder Cup history. The US fought back brilliantly, but a bogey from Mark O’Meara on the 18th led to defeat by Padraig Harrington, meaning Leonard needed a half against Jose Maria Olazabal to win the Ryder Cup. Both find the putting surface in two on the par 4 17th hole, and Leonard is to putt first; a tricky 45-foot, uphill double breaker, through the shadows, for the most improbably of victories. He strikes it perfectly; it climbs a slight ridge and goes straight in the middle of the hole. Pandemonium ensues. There has never been a more opportune moment to hole a putt of such magnitude.
All the hype coming into the final event of the PGA Tour fall series was on Webb Simpson and Luke Donald. Rarely have two players been the focus of such undivided attention. Simpson, taking second place the week before at the McGladrey Classic, possessed a commanding lead in the money rankings, with Donald needing no worse that a three way tie for second to have any chance of taking the title. After nine holes on Sunday, Donald’s chances appear to be over. He starts with two birdies, but makes no further progress towards a 62 that he felt he needed for victory. An up and down at the 10th hole starts a simply stunning run, and he has made five in a row and is seven under for his round coming to the 15th tee. He hits a slightly fat tee shot, and finds the putting surface, just over 40 feet short of the hole. Donald is the best putter in the game, but no one expects him to knock in a lengthy birdie putt for six in a row, especially given his tendency to struggle under pressure. He strikes a nice putt which is tracking all the way, before it falls into middle of the cup at perfect speed. A glorious birdie two and, in my view, the most important birdie of his career.
A fresh faced, 19-year-old Sergio Garcia is battling it out with Tiger Woods to be crowned the 1999 PGA Champion. He is two behind on the sixteenth tee, and his drive settles next to a root of a large tree. It seems an impossible shot, and one that perhaps only an exuberant and confident young man would take on. Garcia plays for an enormous fade, and makes prefect contact, despite having both his eyes shut at impact. His ball inexplicably finds the putting surface, and Woods makes bogey to lose his two shot lead. No one that watched that shot will ever forget the image of Sergio sprinting up the fairway, and jumping at precisely the right moment to see his miraculous shot somehow land on the green. A wonderful moment and one that encapsulates the excitement of major championship golf.
Remember to check back tomorrow for part two.
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