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a New Twist
Alan Shipnuck
August 23, 1999
In a thrilling duel at the PGA, Tiger Woods had to fight off a younger, equally crowd-pleasing rival to win his second major title
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August 23, 1999

A New Twist

In a thrilling duel at the PGA, Tiger Woods had to fight off a younger, equally crowd-pleasing rival to win his second major title

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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 3½ 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 Niño'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 2½ 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."

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