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Sportswoman of the Year

More than a shot in the dark

By Gary Van Sickle

December 12, 2000

The shot I'll remember most from 2000 wasn't one of Tiger Woods' best, since he had an obscenely long list of those. What made it memorable was the setting. It's not often you see PGA Tour players hitting the ball in the dark.

It was at the NEC Invitational in Akron, Ohio, at Firestone South and, thanks to a three-hour-plus rain delay, it was dark as Woods and Hal Sutton played down the 18th fairway. Pitch black? No. But it was pretty doggone dim, especially with a humid haze hanging in the air like a cheap shower curtain. Even Superman would've been squinting if he'd been standing next to me at the 18th green trying to see the final twosome come in. Woods later said that if the tournament had been close he never would have played the last two holes in those conditions. However, he had a 10-shot lead and and a jam-packed Monday ahead of him -- a morning clinic for kids, then a flight to California for the Battle of Bighorn against Sergio Garcia -- so Tiger had incentive to finish in the darkness.

Woods was 168 yards from the green at Firestone. I could see him, barely. Sutton had already hit his approach shot on the par-4 hole, leaving it just in front of the green. The pin location was back left. Woods used an 8-iron, we learned later, and swung through the shot. There was no way anybody saw the ball in the night sky. What were mere seconds seemed to pass slowly. Just as I started to wonder where his ball ended up -- since the odds of actually seeing it were slim to none -- it magically appeared next to the pin, and the awestruck spectators exploded in a roar of surprise and delight. Camera flashbulbs went off, making the green look like some kind of strobe-filled disco. As Woods approached, fans in the grandstand held up lighters or lit matches, a gesture usually reserved for rock concerts. Hey, it's not your father's golf tour anymore.

Both players received a thundering ovation at the green. Sutton made a nice chip in the dark -- it was closer to pitch black by then -- and saved par. Woods rapped in his short birdie putt to win by 11. After he signed his scorecard, Woods emerged from the scoring trailer and was quickly escorted to a nearby on-course restroom. He'd suffered from the flu all day, wasn't feeling well, and had had to visit the portable bathrooms several times during the final round. When he met with writers later, he was asked if that last shot was one of his most memorable. "I don't know, I couldn't see it," Woods joked. "But I could hear it."

It was more than just a shot in the dark. It was a memorable exclamation point.

December 12, 2000

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