PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus have never had a conversation longer than a couple of minutes, and rarely about golf. Maybe it’s because they already think along the same lines when it comes to winning tournaments.
The Players Championship was another example of how Woods rarely beats himself.
Nicklaus was under the oak tree at Augusta National last month after hitting his ceremonial tee shot when he talked about one that got away, the first time he had a share of the lead going into the final round of a major and didn’t win. It was the 1971 Masters, and he found the water trying to reach the 15th green with a 3-wood.
“I don’t like to waste a tournament on one shot,” Nicklaus said. “If I was today thinking about strategy of what I wanted to do on that, I probably wouldn’t have done it. I put myself out of the tournament. One shot shouldn’t be a shot that puts you out of the tournament.”
The island green on the TPC Sawgrass is nothing like the 15th at Augusta National, but it’s hard not to think about Nicklaus when reviewing the hole that settled a weekend duel between Woods and Sergio Garcia.
Woods was standing on the 17th tee Sunday when he looked over and saw Garcia approaching the par-5 16th green with a putter in hand, realizing he was there in two and at worst would make birdie to tie Woods for the lead.
The pin was in its traditional Sunday location, the back right corner behind the bunker. Finding land is always the priority. From there, it’s a bonus to catch the ridge that feeds the golf ball down a gentle slope toward the hole.
“The thing is, you can get baited into hitting it over there, and that’s the hard part,” Woods said. “I thought that the prudent play for me was hit it in the center of the green, even left-center, and try and hit kind of a pull-cut. It I hit a pull-cut, it’s going to have a little bit of distance to it, and it might have the shape where it might land up on top and feed down. But when I hit it, a little bit of gust came up and it stalled out.”
The ball stayed on the front of the green, leaving a difficult putt from 45 feet. Woods hit a lot of good putts that didn’t go in Sunday. This might have been the best putt that he wasn’t expecting to go in. The pace was perfect, 3 feet away, and he made his par. Mission accomplished.
Garcia, who two-putted for birdie on the 16th, was standing on the 17th tee watching Woods make his par. Garcia went at the flag and posed over the shot until he saw the splash. His next shot bounced off the mound framing a bunker and caromed back into the water. He wound up with a quadruple-bogey 7.
To say such mistakes never happen to Woods would be to ignore the final hole at Dubai in 2001, when he went for the green on the 18th hole and found water for a double bogey to lose by two shots. More often than not, the other guy beats him.
Back to Nicklaus, talking about Augusta National, though it can apply to other golf courses and situations.
“If you’ve got a 50-50 chance of doing it, I wouldn’t be doing it,” Nicklaus said about high-risk shots. “If you’ve got a 90-10 chance, think real hard about it, and try to make sure you eliminate the 10.”
Woods made a mistake on Sunday when he hit a pop-hook into the water on the 14th, leading to double bogey that gave hope to about a half-dozen players. That was because of a bad swing.
It’s his head that kept him in the game.