Commentary

A not-so-simple par served as catalyst for Tiger's historic 2008 season

Originally Published: December 20, 2008
By Bob Smiley | Special to ESPN.com

ESPN.com contributor Bob Smiley tailed Tiger Woods for the entire 2008 season, chronicling Tiger's triumphs inside the ropes and his own adventures outside them. The following is the second of two excerpts from Follow the Roar, Smiley's new book, which is available in bookstores everywhere.

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods
AP Photo/Denis PoroyAt first glance, the par Tiger Woods made on the par-4 15th hole at Torrey Pines' North Course might seem pedestrian by any standard. But if you happened to watch exactly how the world's No. 1 player made his par, it was nothing short of miraculous.

Buick Invitational, Round 2 -- Torrey Pines North -- January 25, 2008

11:20 a.m. -- Tiger played his first five holes on Torrey Pines North 1-under par. Not bad, but not exactly lighting it up. The North is by far the easier course of the two, and players tend to go low here and hang on for dear life on the South course. It looks as if Tiger is doing the opposite.

His group started on the back nine, and his one problem, as it was yesterday, is his driver. He missed left on 10 and right on 11, the dreaded two-way miss off the tee that has always appeared to frustrate Tiger more than any other part of his game.

The "two-way miss" is a good golfer's way of describing a bad golfer's problem, that essentially he has no idea which way his ball's going. Walking down the 15th, a simple, downhill 394-yard par-4, I don't know which way it's going either, but I guess right. Give me five spins on the roulette wheel and I'll be wrong five times. But this call is perfect. And since the 15th green is about the farthest point away from civilization on the already vacant North Course, only thirty or forty fans are gathered around his ball. As expected, Tiger is in no mood to socialize.

When Tiger arrives, he's still holding his driver and fuming, his jawbones sticking out from his cheeks. He takes one look at his ball and the eucalyptus tree that is blocking his next shot and says, loud enough for us to hear, "Stupid f-----."

Tiger's propensity for swearing on the course is not something of which he is proud and may be the only flaw he routinely fails to keep under wraps. This can mean only that bad language is either the one thing in life Tiger Woods can't beat or he's not really trying to control it at all.

His dad, Earl, said that early on he tried to teach Tiger to bottle up his emotions on the course, but in time Tiger proved that his outbursts could spur him on to better results. It's a theory that completely goes against the conventional wisdom of most every sports psychologist.

Bob Rotella, golf's most famous guru, goes so far as to make not getting angry one of his ten commandments of mental golf, drilling home the mantra that "nothing will bother or upset you on the golf course, and you will be in a great state of mind on every shot."

And even though the tee box is now more than 300 yards behind him, Tiger is still swinging his driver  another Rotella no-no. "The only shot you think about is the one at hand!" is the rule.

He finally stuffs his driver back in the bag, but he doesn't pull out another club yet; rather, he stands behind the ball and places his hands behind his back. And then he closes his eyes.

Call it meditating, exorcising demons, I don't know. But the séance lasts a good five or six seconds as some of us in the crowd shoot one another a quick glance to ask, "Um, what's going on?" When Tiger opens his eyes, his mood is different. Lighter. He shakes out both hands and says, "Okay."

Stevie [Williams], his caddy, has been waiting patiently, as if this happens a lot. And this is when Tiger casually asks, "How far?"

"Eighty-seven hole, eighty-two front," he shoots back.

Tiger nods, then grabs a wedge and punches it under the tree. It comes out hotter than he expected, hops the green, and then disappears back down the other side. Tiger doesn't swear about this one but reacts as if it went exactly where he wanted it to and starts walking.

I run the 87-plus-10 yards to the ball, wondering if perhaps he had painted such a positive mental picture of the shot that he was physically unable to see what really happened. Before he was in trouble, but now he's in jail. His third shot has to go under some pine trees, then up a steep bank of thick rough, then back downhill to a pin that is cut close to the back of the green.

Tiger looks at the shot, unconcerned and clearly still feeling residual warm fuzzies from his astral planing, and pitches the ball up the hill. It appears perfect from our point of view, but once on top we see it never made it to the green, getting snagged by the rough. A bogey would be a gift at this point. Meanwhile, his playing partners George McNeill and Jim Furyk just stand there, putters under their arms, for once waiting for a hack named Tiger Woods.

Tiger gets up to the ball, takes a brief look at the hole, and then, calmly, chips it in for par. I'm now feeling liberated enough myself to express what I'm really feeling. I open my mouth and out comes two words I almost never use: "Holy s***."

Tiger picks the ball out of the cup and moves off to the side of the green, where he coolly starts to reapply some lip balm. He's a monster. Or at least a monster with lips that dry out easily. We're still cheering, but he doesn't appear to hear us. Stevie's laughing, but Tiger doesn't notice him. He's still somewhere else. Furyk putts out for a conventional par, then sidles over to Tiger, shaking his head and smirking. Finally, Tiger snaps awake and laughs.

It is the deepest and scariest focus I've ever seen.

1:09 p.m. -- After that mystical par on No. 15, Tiger Woods steps on the gas. He promptly birdies the 16th, an uphill 336-yard par-4, using a 3-wood off the tee for one of the first times all week. Seven under. He birdies the 18th, the boring 520-yard par-5 that I sneaked across the day before to get to the range. Eight under .

On the par-5 1st, he blocks one into the right trees, and when the marshal asks us all to take 10 steps back, Tiger tells us to stay put, adding "I'm not playing that badly, am I?" Up and down for birdie. Nine under.

On the short 326-yard 2nd hole, Tiger short-sides himself but makes the putt for three anyway. Ten under. And for good measure, he birdies the 4th. Eleven under. I add them up as I walk. Five birdies in seven holes!

I go out of my way to catch a glimpse of the only leaderboard on the North Course. At 11 under par, Tiger Woods is in the lead. By four. A fan next to me notices Furyk's total and says, "Four under, that's good." Then thinks for a second and adds, "unless you're Tiger, in which case that's crap."

In a matter of less than two hours on a Friday morning, and ignited by something that on paper will look like a "nothing-special" par, Tiger Woods has put away a tournament that won't officially be over for two more days.

When not tracking Tiger, Bob Smiley is a TV writer, runs the golf blog Fore Right and is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's golf coverage. He can be reached at bobsmiley77@gmail.com.

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