Gentlemen, the line forms here to spank Tiger Woods. Next! Whoa!
One at a time, please. First, Ernie Els--with an assist from
Mother Nature--turns Tiger's run in the majors into a Grand Sham
at the British Open. Then Rich Beem flat outplays Woods at the
PGA. Now Craig Parry whips him at the NEC Invitational.
Tiger undeniably has set a high standard, but if his wall of
invincibility cracked during an 81 in the rain-ravaged third
round at Muirfield and buckled when Beem punched him out down the
stretch at Hazeltine, it crumbled like the Berlin Wall at Sahalee
Country Club, near Seattle, last weekend when Parry shot 66-65 to
Woods's 67-68 to beat Robert Allenby and Fred Funk by four shots
and Tiger by five at the NEC, one of the four World Golf
If Woods indeed flinched in the face of an eagle by Beem on the
final day of the PGA by going bogey-bogey in response, he did
something worse at Sahalee. On Saturday, Tiger had caught a
stumbling bunch of leaders by the 15th hole, but the Rollie
Fingers of golf failed to close the victory. He finished with
another pair of bogeys, including a killer at 18, a reachable
par-5. That's the kind of mistake Woods never makes. Correction:
That's the kind of mistake he never used to make.
"Tiger is obviously hard to beat when he's on his game, but he's
not unbeatable," said Beem, who endured a tiring week after his
Cinderella win yet tied for sixth, seven shots behind Parry.
"Shoot, he wins the Buick Open, finishes runner-up last week and
close to runner-up this week. That's not bad."
Yes, but that's not Tiger. The Saturday slipup proved costly. On
Sunday neither Woods nor anyone else made a bona fide run at the
diminutive (5'6") Parry, whose closing 65 in the firmest, fastest
and toughest conditions of the week was the studliest round of
the tournament. Parry, a 36-year-old Australian, had won 19 times
worldwide but never in the U.S., and never anything approaching
this $1 million first prize, which was three times larger than
any of his previous winner's checks. The key moments came early,
when he birdied three of the first four holes to make a sudden,
stunning breakaway, something Lance Armstrong might pull off in
the French Alps.
Actually, this wasn't the first time Parry had outplayed Woods
this year. Remember back in January when Tiger entered the New
Zealand Open as a favor to his Kiwi caddie, Steve Williams? Woods
was never in contention Down Under, but his presence did
overwhelm the event, and the accomplishments of the winner--Craig
Parry, whose nickname is Pazza, which is Australian for, well,
nothing. It's just Australian.
On Sunday night, as Woods headed home for a three-week break
before the American Express Championship in Ireland and the Sept.
27-29 Ryder Cup in England, he took with him a few unresolved
issues. His play at Hazeltine and Sahalee offered a ray of hope
to the Tour's huddled masses, and no amount of spin can cover up
the more-than-usual errant swings and uncharacteristic mistakes
Woods's troubles really began in the final round of the Buick
Open three weeks ago. He struggled with his swing but won anyway
thanks to a superlative short game and a less-than-stellar cast
of pursuers who fell down and couldn't get up. Woods didn't play
his best at the PGA either, until that brilliant four-birdie
stretch at the end, which came after he had already kicked away
his chances with those back-to-back bogeys on 13 and 14. And
don't forget the finish to his third round, when he bogeyed the
18th. When you come up one short, every mistake gets supersized.
Before pulling out of the Sahalee parking lot for the last time,
Woods, normally his own harshest critic, said, "I played really,
really well." His words rang hollow, though. There were too many
shots hung out to the right, a recurring problem, and too many
wasted strokes. He faded a six-iron shot into the pond at the
par-3 17th in the first round and made a double bogey, then
bogeyed the same hole on Saturday and tactlessly blamed Williams
for talking him into switching from a five-iron to a six. Woods
also failed to birdie the par-5 11th in any of the four rounds,
on Sunday missing the green to the right with a four-iron and
then playing a poor chip. "To make par with a four-iron in my
hand certainly was frustrating," admitted Woods, who
nevertheless hit more greens in regulation (54) than all but 10
players in the 77-man field.
Don't look for Woods to say he needs a lesson, though, not after
announcing that he no longer requires the full-time services of
swing coach Butch Harmon. "If I put the British Open together
with these last three tournaments, I've really played well,"
Woods said on Sunday. "I've won only one tournament, but that's
not bad. Anytime you win one and put yourself in contention to
win, you're doing all right." Please note the change in Tiger's
philosophy: Second place no longer "sucks."
Even if Woods had won a fourth straight NEC, last week was
always going to be about Beem, who has become a national
sensation after his PGA win. Beem resonates with fans because of
his middle-class background (he quit golf for a time to sell car
stereos in Seattle), his sense of humor (can you see Tiger being
flippant and self-deprecating?), his inability to say anything
other than what he really thinks (and smile when he says it) and
his long-ball prowess (not even Tiger hits a seven-wood 270
yards). You know you've reached cult status when you're the
subject of the Top 10 List on Late Night with David Letterman,
which Beem was on Aug. 19. Of Dave's Top 10 Surprising Facts
about Rich Beem, Beem says number 9 was his favorite: "Once ran
over a man with a golf cart just to watch him die." (Woods,
though, remains tough to catch in every category. He has been
Top 10'd three times. The best was Tiger's Top 10 Pet Peeves, in
August 2000. Number 5: "Satan calls at all hours of the night to
remind you of the agreement.")
As whirlwinds go, Beem's was Run-Toto-Run stuff. After winning
the PGA, he spent hours giving interviews in Minnesota while
about 300 buddies whooped it up--at his expense--at his home
course, the El Paso Country Club. "I'm sure they were totally out
of control," said Beem, a reformed party boy. "My tab will be
big, but I'm fine with that."
On Monday, Aug. 19, Beem, his caddie, Bill Heim, and a friend
visited downtown Seattle and got haircuts at a salon run by the
friend's fiancee. "We got the whole nine yards," said Heim. "It
was a step up from SuperCuts for me." Later that day the Beem
Team visited the Bellevue store where Rich once worked. He got a
hero's welcome and, for a laugh, answered a phone call. "Magnolia
Hi-Fi," he said. "This is Rich Beem. How may I help you?"
Predictably, the call was from yet another media outlet looking
to chat up Beem's former coworkers, a story angle that had become
a cliche a week after Beem's first win, at the 1999 Kemper Open.
Beem also dropped by a fancy auto dealership intending to buy a
Porsche. (His wife of eight months, Sara, had given him the O.K.
to splurge on some new wheels.) Beem, wearing cutoffs, a fleece
sweatshirt and an Atlanta Braves cap, left, he said, when the
salesmen ignored him. "I'm sure they figured I wasn't going to
buy anything," he said. (The dealership's version: Beem was
greeted and, indeed, recognized but was given his privacy as he
chatted continuously on his cellphone.)
On Aug. 20, Beem played a practice round at Sahalee and said he
laughed when he skulled a couple of practice shots out of a
bunker and heard a fan say, "That guy won the PGA?" On
Wednesday, Aug. 21, Beem's alarm went off at 3:45 a.m. so he
could appear on the Today show. "My wife loves Katie Couric, but
I guess I get Matt Lauer," Beem had said the day before,
feigning disappointment. After leaving Lauer laughing, Beem went
back to bed for two more hours of precious shut-eye. Later he
practiced at Sahalee a bit, then escaped with Heim to the nearby
TPC at Snoqualmie Ridge to get away from the swarm of media and
fans. However, a cadre of Japanese photographers followed him.
"I was out of there after five holes," Beem said. "It wasn't the
photographers; I was tired." Heim, who was on the golf team at
UTEP, stayed and played 30 holes.
Meanwhile, the messages kept rolling in. There was one from the
Democratic nominee for governor of Texas. His name? "I don't
know. I've got it written down," said Beem, who admitted to being
a Democrat but maybe not a registered voter in Texas. The state's
current governor also called. His name? "Your guess is as good as
mine," Beem said. (For those keeping score at home, the first
call was from Tony Sanchez and the second from Rick Perry.)
Beem was relieved to finally get on the course last Thursday
morning, although he crashed his opening drive into a massive
Douglas fir and shot a three-over 74. His next three rounds were
as superlative as they were impressive, especially given his
fatigue. Beem shot 12 under for the final 54 holes. Only Parry,
at 17 under, was better over that stretch. "Yeah, I'm running on
fumes," Beem said on Saturday before a dinner at the chic
Metropolitan Grill with 20 friends and family members to
celebrate his 32nd birthday. "I've got this vision of being home
on Sunday night. I'm running toward that."
He was justifiably proud of his effort at Sahalee. "I didn't come
here after I won the PGA to lay down," Beem said.
Then he went back to his hotel room for a nap.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY ROBERT BECK [Inside T of C] LITTLE WONDER Craig Parry Comes Up Big at the NEC Invitational
PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK FOUR GONE CONCLUSION Riding a hot putter, Parry (left) ended Woods's NEC winning streak at three straight.
COLOR PHOTO: CHERYL HATCH/AP [See caption above]
THREE COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK FIRE AWAY Allenby (above) and Funk (right) tied for second, but PGA champ Beem (below, left), who played behind John Daly on Day 2, was the main attraction.
"If I put the British Open together with these last three
tournaments, I've really played well," Woods said.