- Tim Rosaforte
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This article originally appeared on GolfDigest.com, Jan. 26, 2005.
Tiger Woods walks away with his 41st trophy, flashing that Cheshire grin again, and it goes right to his point about the art of winning. There was something different that he had that nobody else had coming down the stretch at the Buick Invitational. Luck. Nerve. Skill. Will. This was the old Tiger. Actually it was the Tiger who was playing like a kid again.
It brought back the counter-thoughts B.J. Wie had in last week's Golf World when he defended his daughter's career path through a schedule of LPGA and major national amateur events. The message coming out of Torrey Pines gets lost in this being Tiger's first stroke play victory against a full field in over 18 months, in that unbelievable stroke of bad luck that struck Charles Howell III, of another noble effort by Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman in his quest to be a player-captain. But peel back all those storylines and you get to the heart of the Houdini-like act that Woods pulled off on Sunday: Tiger won at San Diego because he learned how to win 14 years ago.
At 15 -- the same age as B.J.'s daughter, Michelle -- Woods was still playing in the California State Amateur, the California High School Championship, the Los Angeles City Junior Championship, the Junior Orange Bowl, the PGA Junior Championship, the Optimist International Junior World and several events on the AJGA circuit. He came up two strokes shy in a qualifier for the L.A. Open.
IMG was all over him but he was grassroots, traveling the country with his dad, learning through the hard times, playing what was essentially a full-time amateur schedule while finishing up his junior year at Western High in Cypress, Calif.
This is where Tiger Woods learned how to close deals and they all weren't all 7 and 6 victories for the three-time U.S. Junior champion. Chris Couch put a 63 on him in the finals of the PGA Juniors one year at PGA National. The most telling moment came on his 17th birthday at the Orange Bowl International Junior Invitational in Coral Gables, Fla. Woods was tied with the now deceased Lewis Chitengwa of Zimbabwe and was the favorite to close out the year with his eighth title.
Tired from the travel and stress of a long year, Woods fell behind early in the match and began sulking. From outside the ropes his father seethed. Afterward, Earl Woods gave his son the type of chewing out that he had never heard before, a dressing down that Earl hadn't given someone since his military days.
"Who do you think you are?" Earl said. "Golf owes you nothing. The nerve of you quitting out there on the golf course. You never quit! You never quit! Do you understand me?"
Tiger understood, but there's not quitting and then there's having the game not to quit. What Woods learned during this period of development was how to score, how to get the ball in the hole, how to fashion a short game that would hold up through a lifetime of swing cycles and changes.
In the 1992 U.S. Juniors, Woods had to birdie 14, 16 and 18 to beat Mark Wilson 1-up. No player had ever defended that title in the previous 45 years of the event. In the 2005 Buick Invitational, Woods was back to struggling with his driver and at times, his irons. This was not the Tiger who hit bullets at Kapalua and knocked down flags at the Target. This was in many ways like the Tiger of 2004, wild, exciting to watch, "close," but not in the slot.
His foul balls were at least in the ballpark, but he had plenty of them, right down to his last full shot, the fanned 2-iron that landed in a bail-out area next to a pond -- about 30 yards right of the pin.
But instead of going in the water, Woods could not only find his ball, he could play the safe little pitch to the fat of the green and rely on his putter to close it out. His ball wiggled twice as it rolled across that nappy po, disappearing on cue, and once again he had done it. Tiger Woods had won.
Tiger is the first to say that his way is not the only way, and in the case of Wie he points out, "I think what she's doing might hurt her, but at the end she might be so talented she might just win everything and it might be a new way of doing it."
Morgan Pressel lost in the finals of the Doherty Cup on Saturday to Taylor Leon, an AJGA All-America who is going from the Leadbetter Academy in Florida to the University of Georgia. There are no guarantees, as B.J. Wie points out, that his daughter would dominate in junior golf. But as Woods learned against Couch and Chitengwa, you learn how to win through losing -- just as long as you're winning.
"Learning how to win in different ways, learning how to win when you're dominating, learning how to win when you don't have anything at all, someone you've got to gut it out and somehow win," is what Tiger said at Kapalua. "There are so many different ways that you can win a golf tournament. I think I've gone through all that, so I've learned."
Woods won the Buick because of that chewing out Earl gave him, because he learned at the Junior Amateur how to come back from 2-down with six to play against Mark Wilson. He got the ball in the hole three less times than anybody in the field at Torrey Pines. That's all that matters. That's the "Art of Winning."
Tim Rosaforte is a senior writer for Golf World magazine.
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