Aug 24, 2009 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
No way was Tiger Woods going to finish second this time.
Faced with that unsatisfying conclusion, the world’s most famous golfer made his rare Central New York appearance count, using three consecutive birdies down the stretch to overtake Camillo Villegas and win the Notah Begay III Foundation Challenge Monday at the Turning Stone Resort’s Atunyote Golf Club.
This was the second edition of Begay’s charity event for his NB3 foundation, which supports Native American youth sports and wellness programs. Woods, Villegas (who won the inaugural event in 2008) and Canadian star Mike Weir joined Begay in the field.
More than 3,000 golf fans came out to Atunyote to catch a glimpse of Woods, in his first golf action since his runner-up finish to Y.E. Yang at the PGA Championship eight days earlier. It marked the first time in 15 tries that Woods had not won a major when leading after 54 holes.
Rarely does Woods attend one-day charity exhibitions. But Begay is a long-time friend, and a teammate when both attended Stanford University in the mid-1990s. That, said Woods, was reason alone to do this event.
“When he called and asked me, I said of course I’m going to do it,” Woods said. “What he (Begay) has done for Native American causes is unheard of. That’s something dear to his heart.”
They would play for $500,000 worth of skins – $10,000 for the first six holes, $20,000 for the next six holes, $50,000 for holes 13 through 17 and $70,000 on the 18th hole.
Right from the start, crowds lined the holes from tee to green — and the next hole, too, all looking for their close-up glimpse of Woods and his playing partners.
What they saw, at the start, was uneven. Woods won the first skin of $20,000 on the 2nd hole with a par when both Weir and Villegas hit poor bunker shots and Begay three-putted.
Quickly, Villegas would recover. On the par-three 3rd, the Colombian native rifled an iron to four feet and made birdie, then added another birdie on no. 4 for back-to-back skins and $20,000 to tie Woods.
As it turned out, Weir would get shut out — though he had his chances. A gorgeous chip on the par-five 5th hole led to birdie, but Woods matched it. On the 6th and 7th holes, Weir had birdie putts to win each time — and each time, they slid by.
Rains prior to the event had softened the airways, so drives normally stayed right where they landed, making the course play longer. However, Atunyote’s greens remained super-quick, giving each of the players fits at one point or another.
Woods regained the lead at the par-five 8th, hitting a chip to seven feet, then sliding in the birdie for $60,000 and four skins. That would be the last skin anyone would claim until deep into the back nine.
The winds picked up as the quartet made the turn, adding to the difficulty. No one could win holes 9, 10 or 11, and birdies halved the 12th. On the 13th, with $130,000 at stake, Begay and Villegas both chipped up and down for par, and the pot grew.
Finally, on the short par-four 14th, Villegas flung a wedge to six feet. After Woods and Weir missed birdie tries, Villegas made his birdie putt, good for $180,000 and what seemed, at the time, to be a safe lead.
All that did, though, was wake up Tiger, who promptly displayed why he has won 70 times on the PGA Tour and 14 times in major championships.
On the par-four 15th bending right through the trees, Woods dropped an iron to seven feet, then made birdie for a $50,000 skin. On the par-three 16th, another iron to seven feet, another Woods birdie, another $50,000.
Then, on the long par-four 17th, Woods hit his iron approach to 10 feet. Weir and Villegas both missed birdie tries, then Woods calmly dropped his third straight putt for his third straight $50,000 skin, taking the lead for good.
And the host didn’t get shut out, either, with Begay sinking a birdie putt on the par-five 18th hole for the last skin, worth $70,000. What’s more, that win kept Villegas from catching up, so Woods, with $230,000, edged out Villegas ($200,000) for the top spot.