PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — The moment stands out as among the most famous at The Players Championship. Twenty years ago this week, Tiger Woods made a 60-foot birdie putt from the back of the island green on the par-3 17th to a front pin in the third round.
Woods went on to win on Monday, and then two weeks later won the Masters to hold all four majors at the same time.
The video, replayed endlessly in the weeks leading up to the tournament, features NBC analyst Gary Koch saying, “Better than most,” his voice rising each of the three times he uttered the phrase until the ball disappeared in the cup.
Better than most doesn’t mean it was the best that day.
About an hour earlier, Robert Allenby made one from even longer.
“I was standing on the wood at the back left of the green, right when you walk up there, just off the green,” Allenby said. “It went out about 15 feet to the left, curled all the way down and went into the hole.”
Call it the best shot hardly anyone saw, and even fewer people remember.
This was before the PGA Tour began its “Live at 17″ in which it showed every player on the most notorious hole at the TPC Sawgrass. A PGA Tour digital media specialist recently reviewed the entire broadcast and said it was never shown.
One person who saw it was PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, who had been returning from a meet-and-greet and paused to watch Allenby putt.
“Finchem told me my putt was about 10 feet longer,” Allenby said with a laugh.
There were a few differences, of course. Woods shot 66 that day to get into the final group. Allenby needed that birdie to shoot 71 and was nine shots behind. Plus, Allenby is not Tiger Woods.
This was a year before the tour began using ShotLink lasers to record each shot. Video has yet to surface of Allenby’s putt. Even finding his playing partner that day — Allenby didn’t remember — was a chore. The PGA Tour’s statistical system only began listing pairings in the fall of 2001.
A search of The Florida Times-Union revealed the Saturday pairings. Allenby was with defending champion Hal Sutton. Reached at home in Houston, Sutton was asked if he recalls Allenby making a putt from back-to-front on the 17th hole 20 years ago in a third round with neither in contention.
“You’re saying I was the one playing with Robert Allenby that day?” he said.
So the answer came in the form of a question — no, he doesn’t.
Allenby could only smile when he saw the video promoting The Players.
“They don’t give out awards for that,” he said. “And at the end of the day, he’s Tiger Woods.”
After taking on most of the water on the par-5 sixth hole at Bay Hill, leaving only 88 yards to the pin on a 565-yard hole, Bryson DeChambeau was asked what bold play he might try at The Players Championship.
He mentioned the idea of playing the 18th hole from the ninth fairway, meaning a massive drive over the water, which DeChambeau said would leave a better angle — over the same water — to the green.
He didn’t sound too serious, and now it’s not an issue.
The PGA Tour rules staff issued a statement Tuesday afternoon that internal out-of-bounds would be left of the lake for the 18th hole “in the interest of safety” for fans, volunteers and others.
It’s the third time this year the tour has used internal out-of-bounds. They marked the left side of the 18th hole at the Sony Open, a shot not normally considered because of corporate hospitality blocking the green (there was no tent this year) and the sixth hole at Bay Hill left of the lake, to keep players from going down the third fairway.
Eight regular PGA Tour events did not have corporate sponsors in their title names. The British Open was not considered an official PGA Tour victory. Deane Beman was the commissioner. Jordan Spieth was not even a month old.
It was on Aug. 22, 1993, when Phil Mickelson won the International against a field that included Jack Nicklaus and Roger Maltbie. Mickelson moved into the top 100 of the world ranking for the first time and stayed there ever since.
Mickelson, who has earned ranking points in only two of his last 10 events, slipped to No. 101 this week. That ends a streak of 1,425 consecutive weeks — accounting for the 12-week freeze from the COVID-19 pandemic — inside the top 100.
Whether that can ever can be broken depends on health and motivation. The most likely candidate would be Rory McIlroy, mainly because he cracked the top 100 when he was 19, four years ahead of Mickelson.
SHARK IS BACK
Greg Norman is returning to Augusta National, where he is more likely to be heard than seen.
Norman will be the lead analyst for SiriusXM as it takes over the play-by-play audio broadcasts of the Masters. Norman will join announcer Brian Katrek in the booth at Augusta National for all four rounds.
“I hope my experience with the course and playing in the tournament 23 times will lend a unique voice and perspective to the listeners, so that they can feel and live every moment as if they were there,” Norman said.
Those 23 years brought mostly heartache, not a green jacket. Norman is best known at the Masters for losing a six-shot lead against Nick Faldo in 1996, and for Larry Mize chipping in from 140 feet on the 11th hole in a playoff in 1987. He was runner-up three times.
Norman previously was the lead analyst for Fox for one year when it had the U.S. Open telecast in 2015 at Chambers Bay.
The Hall of Famer joined SiriusXM in 2018 to launch his own talk show called “Attack Life Radio.” He will hos a special edition of the show on Wednesday from Augusta National.
GUMMIES, MILKSHAKE AND PINBALL
In normal times, the Arnold Palmer Invitational winner comes to the press room and has a toast with Ketel One, the King’s favorite vodka.
That didn’t happen this year because of COVID-19 restrictions, leading to a celebration for Bryson DeChambeau that is as unique as he is.
“I had a chocolate milk and I had some Arnold Palmer gummies,” he said. “It was like iced tea and lemonade gummies. That was kind of funny, it was kind of a tribute to him. We had a little bit of champagne, as well, and popped a bottle. That was fun.”
That’s not all. He finally returned to the house where he was hosted for the week, and they had a pinball machine. He played for a while, and then it was off to bed.
Roger McStravick has won the USGA’s Herbert Warren Wind Award for his book, “St. Andrews: The Road War Papers.” The award recognizes outstanding contributions to golf literature through expert research, writing and publishing. … Plans by the European Tour to stage three tournaments in Florida after the Masters because of COVID restrictions in Spain and Portugal appear to have been scrapped. “I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Rory McIlroy said with a knowing smile. McIlroy added it was a sign of loosening restrictions. … Americans have won three straight events to start the LPGA Tour season for the first time since 2007. … The Players Championship is the final event to qualify for the Dell Match Play, which takes the top 64 available from the world ranking. Among those on the outside is Rickie Fowler.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Jordan Spieth has gone 389 holes without making a double bogey or worse, the longest such streak of his career. His last double bogey was on the par-3 16th hole in the first round of the Masters.
“I’d almost feel better if my game was worse.” — Rory McIlroy, winless since the HSBC Champions in 2019.
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