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1997 Mercedes Championships: Sunday Notes
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Tiger Wins (Again) !!!

In everyone's mind it was supposed to be an 18-hole "match-play" fourth round between the 1996 Player of the Year, Tom Lehman, and the 1996 Rookie of the Year, Tiger Woods. Or as Tom Lehman put it, regarding Tiger Woods, the "Player of the Next Two Decades". They were both tied for the lead at 202 (14 under par) at the end of 54 holes, with the next player down the leaderboard, Guy Boros, five shots back. But what it was supposed to be an 18-hole duel turned out to be a "one-hole-sudden-death" matchup. The finish, however, was no less dramatic, and very exciting.

By 8:30 in the morning the driving range at La Costa Resort and Spa was full ... not of players warming up, but of expectators watching the first few players getting ready for the last round of the tournament. The leaders were still in bed, probably, and wouldn't tee off until 11:20.

Rain started to come down by 9:15, and by 10:57 play was suspended due to unplayable conditions. If there is one glitch to these beautiful golf courses at La Costa is that they were built in low lands, and the drainage is not very efficient. The course can become unplayable within a few minutes of a constant rain. At 1:05 p.m. the PGA Tour and the tournament committee, taking the immediate and long range weather forecasts into consideration and with rain still coming down, decided to cut the tournament to 54-holes. The winner was to be decided by a sudden death playoff at the 7th hole, a par-3 of 188 yards, over water, with bunkers protecting the front and back, and water on the left. The 7th hole was the only playable hole in the course, so in case of a tie after playing the hole once, Lehman and Woods would have had to return to the 7th tee and play the hole again, and so forth until the winner was determined.

Both, Woods and Lehman spent about 25 minutes in the driving range, under steady rain, warming up for the playoff. Lehman hit 5, 6 and 7 irons, whereas Woods hit mostly 5-irons. In the range the wind was more in their faces, but at the 7th hole it was at about 15 miles per hour and from right to left. The hole location was on the left side of the green, six steps from the left edge and the water, and 12 steps from the front of a green that is 21 steps deep. Both the wind and the hole location seemed to favor players who draw the ball, as both players do. Just aim to the middle and let the wind and a slight draw take care of it.

To decide the order of play Tiger Woods drew numbers first, since he was the first player to finish at 14-under the day before. He drew number "2". Tom Lehman had to hit first. A large gallery surrounded the entire hole, even on the other side of the large pond. Lehman used a 6-iron. " I popped it up", he later said, "I may have teed up the ball a little too high". The ball flew high towards the hole, but the wind caught it in mid air and made it drift left into the water. Tiger was shocked a bit by Lehman's shot, but he later indicated that he was still focused on his shot. He had to execute his tee shot and put the ball on the green to be able to win the tournament. And indeed he did. He aimed at the middle of the green and hit his natural draw. The wind took care of the rest. The ball landed two feet past the hole, and came back to rest about ten inches below the hole. Game over. Even by holing his 80-yard pitch for a 3 could not help Tom Lehman even extend the playoff. And he almost did holed his pitch. The ball missed the hole by a few inches on the fly and came to rest five feet away from it. The rest was, as they say, academic. Tiger Woods tapped in for his birdie 2 to win the first tournament of the 1997 PGA Tour season. And with this victory today, he:

  • Wins for the third time in nine starts as a professional golfer.
  • Becomes the third youngest player to record his third PGA Tour victory. Only Gene Sarazen and Horton Smith, who won seven times before his 21st birthday, were younger.
  • Accumulated a total of $1,006,594 in earnings in his professional career, becoming the 200th PGA Tour millionaire. He also reached the one-million mark in a record nine events. The previous record had been set by Ernie Els with 27 events.
  • Is 101 under par in 34 official rounds of golf on the PGA Tour, with a scoring average of 68.29.
  • Became the first Mercedes Championships rookie to win since Steve Jones in 1989.
  • Earns 150 Ryder Cup points, for a total of 400 points, moving him into the top-10 list.
  • Establishes his playoff record as 2-0.
  • Qualifies, obviously, for the 1998 Mercedes Championships.

Brief Notes from Tiger Woods Press Conference

  • He's not surprised at having won 3 out of his first 9 tournaments because he is out there to try to win every time. He would have been surprised if his goal was only to make cuts.
  • His schedule this year is experimental. After the US Open he'll have a better idea of his future schedule. As of now, he's not committing to a tournament until the previous Friday. This way, if he changes his mind there would be no harm done to sponsors and fans. He follows what other great players do, like Arnold Palmer, for example.
  • The reasons for his enormous self-confidence are two: "the guy upstairs" (referring to God) who gave him his ability and talent to play the game; and his parents, who educated him and made him the person he is today.
  • His yardage for the playoff shot: 174 to the front, 186 to the hole. Had the tees been all the way back, making the hole 192 yards long, he would have hit a 5-iron.