In my second head-to-head match against Tiger, I went in with the same strategy that worked the first time – get the lead early and stay ahead. Sounds simple I know, but hey, you have to have a plan going in. History shows Tiger is the ultimate front runner and when he gets a lead in all formats of the game, it’s pretty much a done deal. For our second meeting in the World Match Play Championship, he was in the midst of a record run of wins, having won the previous seven tournaments. Back in 1945 Byron Nelson won 11 in a row, and Tiger was chasing down what was considered an insurmountable record. Needless to say, the crowd and media did not want me to put an end to his winning streak.
Teeing off that day at Dove Mountain in Tucson, Arizona the energy surrounding our match was electric. The buzz was the only thing keeping me warm because the weather was freezing cold which in hindsight worked in my favor early on. Tiger was all out of sync, playing the first seven holes poorly. Somehow, I had a 4-up lead with par golf. That all changed however, on the 8th hole after he flushed a long iron and gave it his famous club twirl with the ball still in flight. ‘Oh no’, I thought, ‘he’s found his swing’. Momentum in golf is huge and that one swing flipped a switch on his game. Birdies were reeled off in quick succession and I was doing everything in my power to hold back the onslaught.
“Needless to say, the crowd and media did not want me to put an end to his winning streak.”
Eventually he drew level on the 15th hole and after we halved 16 in pars, I edged ahead again with birdie on the par 5 17th. Tiger being Tiger hit two great shots on 18 leaving an 8-footer for birdie to send it into extra holes. I knew he’d make it and didn’t even consider anything else. On the 19th he had his one chance to beat me. After my birdie attempt from 20 feet melted across the hole, Tiger had 5 feet for the win. I figured it was over because he doesn’t miss these in crucial moments. I handed my ball to my caddie Wilber and said, “Well, we gave it a great try”. Wilbur said, “Hang on mate, it’s not over yet”. He must have known something as Tiger’s putt slid by the right edge. We were on to the 20th. After both of us found the greenside bunker, it came down to a short game contest. From a difficult spot he splashed out to 15 feet, while I nudged mine inside his to 12 feet. He missed, I made, and victory number two was in the books. Tiger, as gracious as ever, thanked me for the game and wished me well for my next match.
Looking back, I’m obviously proud to have gone toe to toe with one of the greatest players the game has ever seen twice and come out on top both times. But equally, I’m just as proud that I never trailed in either match… which in match play usually works out pretty well ;)