Remembering Tiger's First PGA Tour Victory
“AS DISAPPOINTED as I am, I'm that much happy for him. He’s a great player and he's great for the Tour.” With those words, Davis Love III accepted defeat as, 25 years ago, Tiger Woods won the first of his 82 PGA Tour titles, marking the start of a quite remarkable career.
Woods was just 20 years old and was making only his fifth start as a professional. And it is fair to say that there was some resentment among his fellow players about all the attention Woods was receiving.
"Everything has been Tiger, Tiger," said Fred Funk. "They kind of forget about everyone else out here.” They clearly knew that they were watching something special.
Woods was unconcerned. Here was a young man who believed he was destined for greatness, who had absolutely no doubts about his ability. For him, that first victory was a matter of when, not if.
Back then the Las Vegas Invitational was played over 90 holes and there was little sign of what was to come when Woods opened with a 70 to trail first-round leader Rick Fehr by eight.
Woods, who turned pro after three consecutive wins in the U.S. Amateur, tied for 60th in his debut in Milwaukee, 11th in Canada, fifth in Quad City, and third the B.C. Open. He had shot in the 60s in seven of eight rounds prior to Vegas, and he followed that round of 70 with a stunning 63 at TPC Summerlin and a 68 at Desert Inn to move into a tie for eighth, six behind Fehr.
We also saw a sign of things to come. He was playing in pain after suffering a groin injury that dated back to his third U.S. Amateur win in August.
"With all the golf I've been playing, I never gave it a chance to heal," explained Woods.
He had set himself the unlikely target of claiming his PGA Tour card by finishing in the top 125 on the money list in fewer than ten starts, which meant he had no option but to commit to a heavy schedule. He had also been criticised after withdrawing from the Buick Challenge and a dinner at which he was to receive the Haskins Award as the nation's top collegiate golfer.
A week later, Woods was in Vegas with nothing on his mind other than achieving his maiden victory.
Nursing that painful groin injury, Woods eagled the par-five 16th in the fourth round on his way to a 67. He finished the day four behind new leader Ronnie Black.
Then came a magical final round. A birdie at the first got the fans into an early frenzy, then came an eagle at the par-five third. Birdies at the ninth, 11th, 13th and 14th moved him into a tie and a two-putt birdie at the 16th gave him the clubhouse lead. He then headed for the practice ground and soon heard that Love had made a late eagle and birdie to pull into tie, at 27-under.
Months earlier, Woods had told Love that it was his dream to go head-to-head down the stretch and beat the established superstar, to which Love had replied: "Good luck, I hope you get the chance."
And that chance arrived at TPC Summerlin, with Woods wasting little time in cashing in. A fairway-splitting three-wood at the 18th hole, followed by a nine-iron to 20 feet applied the sort of pressure that would soon become his trademark.
"He would know I was in position for birdie," Woods said, confirming that it was his strategy to hit first into the first play-off hole.
Love hit his approach into a greenside bunker and was unable to get up and down. A par for Woods turned out to be good enough for him to pick up his first winner’s cheque - for just $297,000. It is a measure of the impact Woods had on his sport that prize money has increased five-fold in the interim.
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