There was no freighted embrace with the old man behind the 18th
green. There were no ghosts exorcised, no historical legacies
razed. This was golf, not sociology. If Tiger Woods's stunning
victory at the 1997 Masters signaled the birth of a
cross-cultural icon, his win at last week's PGA Championship
served mainly to confirm that he has matured into a golfer for
the ages. For 3 1/2 rounds Woods overpowered the longest course
in major championship history, and then, in a giddy, sloppy,
riveting duel over the final nine holes, he outlasted Spain's
teen dream, Sergio Garcia, who didn't quite sneak off with the
tournament--but for a while did steal the show.
Woods's one-stroke victory, with an 11-under 277, put an
exclamation point on a century of golf and launched a rivalry
that should propel the game into a new era. Forget Nicklaus and
Palmer; Woods, 23, and Garcia, 19, have the star quality of
Newman and Redford. What was the most electric moment of
Sunday's back nine, anyway? Was it the mischievous glare Garcia
gave Woods after making a long birdie putt at the par-3 13th,
which announced the beginning of El Nino's comeback? "It
wasn't--I don't know how to say--it wasn't a bad thing," Garcia
said afterward in his courtly English. "I mean, I did it with
good feelings, not hoping he would make a triple bogey or
whatever. I was kind of telling him: If you want to win, you
have to play well."
Perhaps what we will remember most about this sun-toasted
afternoon at Medinah (Ill.) Country Club was Garcia's
recovery--and reveling--at the par-4 16th. Having cut the
deficit to one, but with his drive cozied up to the base of one
of Medinah's 4,161 trees (yes, someone counted), Garcia opened
the face of his six-iron and, with his eyes closed, slashed at
the ball like a housewife trying to kill a mouse with a broom.
He chased the shot up the fairway with hilarious enthusiasm,
doing a little scissors kick as he strained to see it reach the
green, and then pantomimed to the crowd the pitter-patter of his
heart. Summing up Sunday's events, Garcia said, "It was really
fun, most of all. It was joy, it was pressure, it was, I will
tell you, the best day of my life."
It also was a day that concluded with Woods kissing the
Wanamaker Trophy, and that, in the end, is what the 81st PGA
deserves to be remembered for. As a kid, Woods had a chronology
of Jack Nicklaus's record 18 major championship victories tacked
to the wall next to his bed, so he knows as well as anybody that
by the end of Nicklaus's third full season as a pro he already
had won three majors. Woods is still one down, but once again
the race is on.
The long-awaited second leg of Woods's career Grand Slam was
achieved with the kind of resolve that was Nicklaus's trademark.
Tied for the lead (with overmatched Canadian lefty Mike Weir)
and two shots in front of Garcia as the final round began, Woods
came out with four birdies in his first 11 holes, forging a
seemingly insurmountable five-stroke lead. One three-putt, two
gouged chips and a loose eight-iron later, he had spent four of
those shots, and when he arrived at Medinah's 17th hole, he was
facing one of the defining moments of his young career. It
didn't help that for the first time his antagonist was younger
than he was and the crowd was rooting against him. "I knew when
I got to 17 I had to play the two best holes of my life," said
Woods after his victory. "Despite everything that had happened,
I still had the lead, and I was completely focused on doing
whatever I had to do to maintain it."
The 17th hole at Medinah is a steeply downhill par-3 over water
that was playing 212 yards on Sunday, and Woods misjudged both
the swirling winds and his adrenaline. He jacked a six-iron over
the green and into a gnarly clump of Kentucky bluegrass. Legs
splayed in an awkward stance, he fluffed the ensuing chip,
leaving himself a frightening downhill eight-footer for par. It
was the kind of putt on which a reputation can turn, but Woods
willed his ball into the left corner of the cup, and that was
the key shot of the tournament. A textbook par on 18 iced the
championship. "It's what all those hours of practice are all
about, to be able to execute the shots when you absolutely have
to," Woods said. When he finally tapped in for victory, an
exhausted Woods eschewed his trademark uppercut and instead
slumped over his putter.
It's no wonder he was so weary--this was a victory 2 1/2 years
in the making. Woods's life was turned upside down after his win
at Augusta, and only recently has he come to grips with it. The
utter craziness of that first spasm of Tigermania (remember that
term?) is tough to quantify, but perhaps all you need to know is
this: Woods became the first golfer to make the cover of the
National Enquirer. On another occasion the tabloid pictured
Woods cavorting on the dance floor of a nightclub with a
prodigiously buxom blonde under the headline TIGER'S WILD NIGHT
WITH TOPLESS DANCER. He has now exchanged this swinging
bachelorhood for a girlfriend of nearly a year, Joanna Jagoda, a
recent graduate of UC Santa Barbara who has earned high marks
for her discretion and poise amid so many inquiring minds.
This is but one sign of Woods's growth. Hughes Norton, the
bombastic IMG agent who made Woods nearly as many enemies as
millions, was fired late in 1998 in favor of a kinder, gentler
replacement, Mark Steinberg. Woods dumped his caddie, Fluff
Cowan, in March, in part because Cowan's mushrooming celebrity
was becoming too bothersome. Woods can't fire his father, an
occasional loose cannon, but Earl Woods has taken a lower
profile. One of the most poignant moments of Tiger's victory at
the Masters was the embrace of father and son behind the 18th
green. Following Tiger's victory on Sunday, Earl was back in the
clubhouse and notably absent among those waiting to dole out
hugs at Medinah's 18th.
"Tiger has become his own man," says his friend, mentor and
Orlando neighbor, Mark O'Meara. "He has taken greater control of
his career, and he's to the point where he feels extremely
comfortable in all aspects of his life. I'm not sure that was
always the case."
Woods's game has matured in kind. Listening to him discuss his
swing of a few years ago, it seems a wonder that he ever broke
80. He even dismisses his record performance at Augusta: "I saw
a videotape and thought, God almighty, I won, but only because I
had a great timing week. To play consistently from the positions
my swing was in was going to be very difficult to do."
So, beginning in September 1997, he and his swing doctor, Butch
Harmon, tore apart his mechanics. To the untrained eye, little
has changed in Woods's vortex-inducing rip, but the refinements
are threefold. On the backswing he now takes the club farther
outside along the target line, which keeps him more consistently
on plane. At the top, his backswing is shorter and more compact,
rarely reaching parallel, even with his driver. Finally, his
downswing is rounded and more controlled, with less dropping of
the club into the "slot," a flaw that sometimes caused his path
to the ball to be too steep. Together these improvements have
cost Woods maybe 10 yards in distance, a bargain given his
increased precision. (At the PGA, Woods still led in driving
distance, at 310.3 yards a pop.)
In Woods's mind the march to the PGA championship began in May
at the Byron Nelson Classic, where he shot an opening-round 61
and felt all the changes finally coalescing. (The 61 was a
career best but left him only one shot ahead of Garcia, who was
making his PGA Tour debut.) He won three times through the late
spring and early summer--twice on the Tour and once in
Germany--and contended at both the U.S. and British Opens.
Woods also trained his attention on the PGA in May when he snuck
onto the course for a day of reconnaissance with his buddy
Michael Jordan, a Medinah member. "Tiger loved the course," says
his caddie, Steve Williams. Why? "Because it was so long."
Indeed, Medinah measured 7,401 yards for the PGA, and when rain
last Thursday and Friday saturated the fairways, it seemed "more
like 9,000," according to second-round leader Jay Haas.
Woods played on Thursday morning during the heaviest downpour of
the day, which made his opening 70 even better than it sounded.
Still, he was hardly noticed amid the surging Sergiomania.
Garcia shot a course-record 66 (the record lasted all of a day,
until Skip Kendall fired a 65) that was a combination of power,
touch and moxie. He pulled off the kind of recovery shots that
would make his idol, Seve Ballesteros, and his mentor, Jose
Maria Olazabal, proud--including a seemingly impossible
holed-out chip shot for a birdie on number 2. But unlike his
famously wild countrymen, Garcia has a world-class long game. On
Thursday he averaged 313.5 yards per drive and hit 15 greens in
What made the performance even more impressive was that Garcia
was still trying to live down his shocking performance at last
month's British Open, his first major since turning pro in
April. He shot a this-must-be-a-misprint 89-83 at Carnoustie,
and after the first round he was reduced to crying in his
mother's arms. At the press conference following Garcia's 66 at
Medinah, one of the first questions was about Carnoustie, and he
snapped, "I think I proved myself today, and I think the British
Open is done, so I don't want to hear any more questions about
This qualified as a tantrum for Garcia, who won over the Medinah
galleries not just with his on-course swagger but also with his
Old World charm. "I've gained a lot of respect for him this
week, and not only as a player," Garcia's playing partner Phil
Mickelson said on Friday. "Let me tell you a story: I played the
front nine today in four over, and on the 10th tee he came up to
me kind of shyly and asked, 'Do you mind if I say something?' I
said go right ahead. He said, 'C'mon, let's go have some fun on
the back side.' I thought that was pretty cool."
Fun was scarce for Garcia during his second-round 73, when he
took 33 putts, including a half-dozen missed birdie attempts
inside 12 feet. ("I have issues with my putter," he had said
before the PGA.) He rallied with a 68 on Saturday, however,
matching Woods's score, so he went into Sunday within striking
range of the lead. The odds weren't on Garcia's side--Woods had
won seven straight times when heading into the final round with
at least a piece of the lead. (The only time he hadn't won in
that situation was at the 1996 Quad City Classic, his third
tournament as a pro.)
So Sunday came, and Woods finally found a worthy foil for the
next century, though it turns out not to be David Duval, who has
the game but not the personality. Even in defeat Garcia was
irrepressible. The second-place finish locked up his spot in
next month's Ryder Cup--"I want to play Tiger," he crowed--and
the $378,000 check that came with it secured his playing
privileges on the PGA Tour for next season, if he chooses to
jilt the European PGA. But Garcia isn't the only young man with
a bright future. "I'm learning how to play the game," said
Woods. "I've learned more shots. I've learned to manage myself
around the golf course better, and it's just going to get
better. I'm not that old. I'm not over the hill yet."
However, mastering the game is only half the challenge, as Woods
acknowledged late on Sunday evening. He was upstairs in
Medinah's majestic clubhouse, heading for the exit and a night
of celebrating, having finally fulfilled all his obligations as
champion. He was walking, talking, signing and smiling, all at
the same time. "It can never be as crazy as it was," he said of
the hysteria that lurked beyond the clubhouse door. "I've gone
through it once, so I'll know how to handle it. I've learned."
In other words, this time around there will be no racially
provocative TV ads, no dissing of the President and Rachel
Robinson, no Oprah, no off-color humor in GQ.
Woods was nearing the front entrance of the clubhouse now, where
a black limo was waiting, along with a hundred or so fans that a
phalanx of red-faced Pinkertons were straining to contain. Woods
had one last thought. "That was almost three years ago and a lot
has chang.... " At that moment he stepped through the doors into
a galaxy of exploding flashbulbs and the kind of squeals only he
and one other player can generate. The fans surged forward, and
Woods dove into the limo. He didn't get to finish his sentence,
but after four days at Medinah his point had been made. Tiger is
all grown up now, and so is his golf game.
COLOR PHOTO: COVER PHOTOGRAPH BY ROBERT BECK COVER Major Statement Tiger Woods wins his second big one by holding off golf's newest phenom, 19-year-old Sergio Garcia
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN BIEVER Fire away Woods invented a new swing to hit out from under a tree and save par from an ugly lie on the 15th on Saturday.
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP Blind ambition Garcia closed his eyes and hit a miraculous shot on the 16th, and then flew up the fairway to admire his handiwork.
COLOR PHOTO: JIM GUND [See caption above]
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: JOHN BIEVER (2) Close call Woods's troubles began with an errant tee shot on the 13th, but he held on to beat Garcia, who came up just a bit short.
Garcia opened the face of his six-iron and slashed at the ball
like a housewife trying to kill a mouse with a broom.
By finishing second, Garcia locked up a spot in next month's
Ryder Cup. "I want to play Tiger," he crowed.