Woods and Love found it odd that they met in the playoff. They had played a nine-hole practice round at the Buick Challenge the week before, and Woods told Love that it would be cool to go head-to-head down the stretch someday. "When I saw his name on the board, I thought, He got what he wanted," said Love.
Woods, who started the final round in a five-way tie for seventh, is a dangerous golfer. Difficult situations bring out the best in him. He came from 5 down in two of his championship matches in the Amateur. He came from four shots back at Summerlin, and he did it with a limp. Woods aggravated a groin injury, a hangover from the Amateur, during Friday's round at the Desert Inn. On Sunday he grimaced in pain and held his left leg after hitting a hard two-iron from an uphill lie on the 13th fairway.
Despite the victory—which brings a two-year exemption, gets him into next year's Masters and lifts him to 40th on the money list with $437,194—and the injury, Woods says he will play in this week's Texas Open. Although he has a bona fide excuse, he doesn't want to pull out and cause a flap similar to the one that followed his withdrawal two weeks ago from the Buick Challenge and the subsequently canceled Fred Haskins Award dinner. He was criticized roundly by other pros. Love had one of the harshest comments, saying, "Everybody's been telling him how great he is. I guess he's starting to believe it." Last week Woods attempted to make amends by sending letters of apology to the 200 people who had planned to attend the Haskins dinner.
The incident didn't diminish interest in Woods, who had huge galleries all week. "We had 40 people walking with us, and I knew 20 of them," said Love, who was paired on Sunday with Ronnie Black. "I think Tiger got about 75 percent of the crowd, Fred Couples got 20 percent, and we got the other five percent—and we were playing in the final group."
Woods is big and getting bigger. "He has a chance to win every single week he plays—every single week," said Paul Goydos, the winner of this year's Bay Hill Invitational. "This is the third straight week he had a chance to win. How many guys do that? And how many guys do that when they're 20?"
A player like Woods comes along once in a lifetime. He aims high, probably higher than we know. Before Las Vegas, before he got within range of his stated goal of making the top 125 on the money list and earning an exemption for next year, Woods asked Love if he might make the '97 Ryder Cup team if he won three or four times before next August. "He's not playing for the money," Love said on Sunday. "He never thought, I have to make another one hundred and some thousand dollars to make the top 125. He's trying to win. He thinks about winning and nothing else. I like the way he thinks. We were all trying to prolong the inevitable. We knew he was going to win. I just didn't want it to be today. Everybody better watch out: He's going to be a force."
For now, he's just a kid—a very talented kid who after his victory on Sunday was looking forward to returning to Las Vegas in a year, when he'll be 21. "I'll be legal," Woods said, smiling. "I can actually do some stuff around here."
He already has. Golf may never be the same.