The Sprint International might be the most impressive stop on
the PGA Tour. It's hard to beat the awesome scenery along the
Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, the exquisitely clear
Colorado mornings or the angry late-afternoon lightning storms
that inevitably follow. Then there's Castle Pines Golf Club,
outside Denver, groomed so immaculately that you figure the
groundskeepers must vacuum the fairways. The tournament is also
famous for its hospitality--the word no is not in the Castle
Pines vocabulary--and for the thick milk shakes that last week
had first-time entrant Tiger Woods doing two-a-days.
All that, though, wasn't as impressive as the show put on by the
International's class of '98. For the first time in his 17-year
pro career, Vijay Singh of Fiji became the winner of
back-to-back tournaments, parlaying booming drives, precise iron
shots and seeing-eye putts into victory, as he had the week
before at the PGA Championship. If Singh continues to putt as
well as he has for the last two weeks--he switched to a
cross-handed grip in June, which he says made the difference--it
may be difficult to dislodge him from his new spot atop the
Tour's money list.
Also impressive was the showing of Willie Wood, a short hitter
who in 10 starts in the International has never made an eagle.
Conventional wisdom holds that Castle Pines is a
long-ball-hitter's course and that the tournament's modified
Stableford scoring system--eight points for double eagle, five
for eagle, two for birdie, zero for par, minus- one for bogey
and minus-three for anything else--favors the big guns. "I'd
love to hit it long," said the 5'7", 150-pound Wood. "Cal Ripken
would love to hit homers like Mark McGwire, but nobody has it
What Wood does have is a lethal putting stroke, and he used it
to pursue Singh to the end, which came at the 71st hole when
Singh sank a 20-foot putt for eagle that clinched the victory.
Singh finished with 47 points for the four rounds and Wood with
41. Defending champ Phil Mickelson made a late rush to tie Wood
for second, eagling the 71th hole and sinking a 25-foot birdie
putt on the 72nd green.
To those who bought tickets to the tournament, however, no one
was more impressive than Woods. He hit 400-yard drives. (At
least one, anyway, a 403-yarder at the 14th hole on Saturday.
"Hmmmm," Woods said when given the news. Loose translation:
Ho-hum.) He fired a hole in one. (CBS technicians and cameramen,
who were on lunch break, failed to capture the shot on video.)
He eagled a par-4, flying a sand-wedge shot into the cup. He
eagled two par-5s (he had a tournament-record four eagles for
the week) and had several near misses. The Tour doesn't keep
records like this, but Woods may be the first player to eagle a
par-3, -4 and -5 in the same event.
Woods more than satisfied the Denver fans, who hadn't seen him in
the flesh before and who displayed a mile-high case of
Tigermania, by hanging on to finish fourth. "I never hit the ball
that great," said Woods. "I got a lot out of my tournament. I
could've won it, too. More than likely, I shouldn't have even
been up there. Having two dunks wasn't bad [his ace on the
185-yard 7th hole on Saturday also flew directly into the cup].
Those eagles bailed me out."
Woods took full advantage of the scoring system, racking up 38
points, 20 of them with his eagles. If the tournament had been
scored at stroke play (and assuming nothing worse than a double
bogey), Woods would have shot an eight-under-par 280 and
finished in a tie for 18th, 11 strokes behind Singh. At one
point last week Woods was asked if he wondered where the
Stableford system had been all his life. "Boy, you ain't lying,"
he joked, although initially he had trouble getting used to it.
During the first round Woods freaked out when he noticed a black
14 (in a normal tournament that would have indicated he was 14
over par) next to his name on the scoreboard. "I thought, god,
I'm not playing that bad," he said.
By then Woods had already had a busy week. After the final round
of the PGA in Seattle, Woods flew to Portland for a youth clinic
on Monday. On Tuesday he flew to Aspen, Colo., for a junior
clinic at musician Glenn Frey's tournament, a payback for the
Eagles' having sung at a concert for the Tiger Woods Foundation.
Woods left Portland at five in the morning and arrived
bleary-eyed in Aspen. Without even warming up, he launched a tee
shot 358 yards into the resort town's thin air. "Some people's
vacations aren't that long," Frey said.
The Denver media joined the Tigermania and covered the Frey
outing. Newspapers also carried stories about the Wednesday
pro-am pairings at the International (Sprint CEO Bill Esrey, in
a shocking upset, won a drawing to play with Woods) and
interviewed fans about their reactions to Tiger. One said that
she didn't cry at Titanic or The Horse Whisperer, but when Woods
signed her hat, she just couldn't stop bawling. A man, attending
his first tournament, brought his young son. Guess whose
five-year-old caught Woods's ball when Tiger picked it out of
the cup and tossed it into the crowd after his hole in one?
From the first round on, Woods's week was a walk on the wild
side. Starting the first round on the back nine, he holed the
sand wedge from the fairway on his fourth hole (the 13th) and
had a second eagle at the par-5 8th (his 17th hole). He left an
eagle putt hanging on the edge at the par-5 17th (his eighth
hole) and lipped out a nine-iron shot from the rough that set up
a tap-in birdie at the 2nd (his 11th). Although Woods suffered
four bogeys, the day's scariest thought was how close he had
come to making four eagles. "It was a weird day," he said.
The third round was just as weird. Woods eagled the opening
hole, a 644-yarder. "Tiger skanked it down the first fairway,
but his skanks go 400 yards up here," said Brandel Chamblee, who
was paired with Woods and Steve Elkington. "He had 260 and hit a
four-iron straight up over the pine trees and over the crowd. He
almost holed it. I was up by the green so I saw it the whole
way. Nobody else even sniffs getting there in two. That was the
coolest shot I've ever seen."
Woods hadn't yet reached the 7th hole, which he would ace. "It
seemed like 40,000 people were there waiting for Tiger to do
anything, and he blades an eight-iron," Chamblee said. "It hit
right in the middle of the pin, made the loudest pop and fell
down into the cup. You couldn't hear yourself think for five
There were high fives all around. Then Woods turned to his
caddie, Mike (Fluff) Cowan, and said, "This game is soooo fun."
Said Chamblee later, "Hell, yeah, it's fun. You're making 20
million dollars a year, you're holing eight-irons every other
shot, and you hit it 400 yards. How is it not fun?"
It wasn't as much fun on Sunday when Woods's swing troubles
worsened. He birdied three of the first four holes, but before
the day was over, he had also made three bogeys while Singh
pulled away with a one-bogey round that included five birdies.
Rocco Mediate was paired with Woods this time. At the 11th green
Woods marked his ball and asked Mediate if the mark was in the
way. Mediate told him to move it so he could chip in, which
Mediate proceeded to do. "Tiger gave me a look like, I can't
believe you called that," Mediate said. "On the 18th green I had
a 40-footer and I told him, 'I'm going to knock this one in,
too.' It went in. He just shook his head."
Mediate, though, was the one who was impressed. "I was one of
the skeptics when Tiger first came out," he said. "I said, 'Oh,
he's not going to win that much.' Well, he should. He drives it
so far there are no par-5s for him. None. I hit my best drive at
18, and he was 75 yards past me. When he gets on his game, I
don't know how you stop the guy."
Woods wasn't quite on his game, however. After the round, CBS
announcer Peter Kostis advised Woods that his lower body had
been aligned to the left of the target all day, contributing to
his swing problems. Woods listened attentively, then headed
through the crowd for the clubhouse. In fact, the story of
Woods's year is that he hasn't quite been on his game. Earlier
in '98 it was Woods's putter that was giving him trouble. Now
the putter is hot, but the swing is off. Despite the
frustration, Woods has a win (the BellSouth Classic), six other
finishes of fourth or better and top 10s in three of the four
majors. He also leads the Tour in scoring average (69.17). "From
a winning standpoint, it hasn't been a good year," Woods said
last week. "From a finishing standpoint, it's been so much
better. If you look at the whole package, you can see I've
If this is a slump, as some have called it, what happens when he
gets hot? Chamblee had a similar thought on Saturday, after he
had hit his absolute best drive and then watched Woods mishit
one 30 yards longer. "I asked him if he had hit it good--I knew
he hadn't," Chamblee said. "Tiger said, 'Nah. I'd like to see
where it would go here if I was swinging good.' I said, 'So
Now that would be impressive.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY WILLIAM R. SALLAZ HEAVY HITTER Singh's win at the International lifted him to No. 1 on the Tour's money list and eighth in the World Ranking. [Vijay Singh golfing]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY WILLIAM R. SALLAZ WILD RIDE Woods was all thrills and spills, making a tournament-record four eagles, but also too many errant shots to catch Singh. [Tiger Woods golfing]
"Tiger's skanks go 400 yards up here," said Chamblee of the