Weekly 18: Shots of the year
According to the PGA Tour, there were 1,367,126 total shots taken in 46 stroke-play events during the 2005 golf season.
(And that doesn't even count Vijay Singh at the driving range!)
If tour commissioner Tim Finchem were to earn a dollar for each one, he would have ranked 55th on the money list.
In preparation for this column, the Weekly 18 took a second look at every single one of 'em, examining and ranking each based on difficulty, result and importance. Toss in similar numbers from the LPGA, European, Champions and Nationwide Tours, add numerous mini-tour and Silly Season events and ... well, let's just say the VCR got quite a workout.
Of course, this exhaustive search was solely to benefit you, dear reader. Our persistence and diligence in replaying every shot of the season concludes with this end result: the top 18 shots of 2005.
The situation: The Masters, final round, par-3 16th hole, second shot from greenside rough.
The shot: Decades from now, when Woods hangs up his spikes for the final time, perhaps as history's greatest golfer, we'll look back on the shots that made his career and this will be near the top of the list. One chip shot in the game's biggest event that led to a victory. Forget the urban legend that the large gallery, shaking as one with emotion, helped the ball drop from the lip of the cup into the hole. Forget the fact that Woods finished bogey-bogey and needed a playoff to defeat Chris DiMarco. Forget those because they will be forgotten long before this shot and the ensuing reaction are celebrated as the ultimate images of Woods' career.
Woods' take: "I think under the circumstances, it's one of the best [shots] I've ever hit. ... It looked pretty good, and all of a sudden it looked like really good and it looked like how could it not go in and how did it not go in and all of a sudden it went in, so it was pretty sweet."
The situation: Presidents Cup, final day, par-4 18th hole, birdie putt.
The shot: Poor Fred Couples. An underdog in his singles match against Singh, Boom Boom poured in a birdie putt on the final hole to claim a point for the American side. It was, perhaps, one of the defining moments of his career ... and less than one hour later, it was (mostly) forgotten. That's because DiMarco, standing on almost the exact same spot as Couples just a few matches earlier, snaked in a 15-foot birdie putt of his own to defeat Stuart Appleby and clinch the Cup for the U.S. team. The putt was sweet vindication for DiMarco, who owns seven runner-up finishes on tour since his last victory in 2002.
DiMarco's take: "I thought I might whiff I was so nervous, but I was able to make contact and it went right in the middle. So I just thought about two people out there. I thought about Fred Couples, how big of a putt he made on 18 to win against Vijay. I watched it, actually, when I was on the 13th tee, I could see the JumboTron and I was underneath looking watching the putt. And for Captain [Jack] Nicklaus, that's what our whole goal was as a team this week was to win it for him."
The situation: U.S. Women's Open, final round, par-4 18th hole, third shot from greenside bunker.
The shot: We ain't gonna lie to you, Birdie: This shot was U-G-L-Y. Tied for the lead on the final hole -- with co-leader Morgan Pressel watching in the group behind her -- Kim hit a thin sand shot from the greenside bunker. Ninety-nine out of 100 times in this situation, the ball will skid across the green and land nowhere close to the hole. Instead, Birdie found a little fate, karma and magic as the ball hit the flagstick and plopped into the hole to win her first career major championship, inspiring headlines worldwide that played off her first name.
Kim's take: "Tried my best to make par, maybe I can make bogey, still I have chance. I just want to try to par, get close to hole. But I never think about that ball go in the hole. So amazing."
The situation: PGA Championship, final round, par-5 18th hole, third shot from greenside rough.
The shot: Phil Mickelson knew what it would take to win his second career major championship, the one that could shed that nasty label: Best Player To Win Only One Major. He needed to get up-and-down from some thick spinach on the final hole. Lefty did just that, hitting the wedge shot of his life to within three feet of the pin, setting up an easy birdie putt to clinch the win on a Monday morning in New Jersey.
Mickelson's take: "It was a chip shot that I had hit tens of thousands of times in my backyard. ... The lie was okay; it wasn't bad, but it was sitting down a little bit and I went in aggressively and the ball popped up beautifully and trickled by the hole. It was a great feeling to see it come out the way I wanted it to."
The situation: The Players Championship, final round, par-4 18th hole, third shot from greenside bunker.
The shot: Just call him the Little Engine that Could. Playing in his adopted hometown of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., Funk almost overslept while napping at home earlier in the oft-weather delayed event. But he was wide awake on Monday afternoon, as he stood over his ball that was nestled in the bunker on the final hole. A self-described "peashooter" off the tee, Funk often needs to rely on his short game to hang with the big boys. And that's exactly what he did here, knocking the delicate pitch shot to inside of six feet from the hole, setting up the biggest win of his career.
Funk's take: "I don't know if you saw it on TV or could see the lie, but it just rolled out of its buried mark. It actually had a pile of sand behind the ball, which made it a little tougher bunker shot than it could have been or would have been if it was a purely clean lie. But I was pretty happy when I hit than actually when I saw it in the sand."
The situation: Skins Game, first round, par-5 3rd hole, tee shot.
The shot: Sure, it was hardly the most important shot of Sorenstam's 10-win season. And no, it wasn't exactly Billie Jean King defeating Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes. But when Sorenstam's drive sailed seven yards farther than that of Funk, it provided one of the most entertaining -- and certainly most humorous -- highlights of the season, as Funk donned a pink skirt for the rest of the hole. Of course, he who laughs last, laughs most. For the weekend, Funk won 15 skins worth $925,000.
Sorenstam's take: "We had talked a little bit about [the skirt], but not much. It's all Funky's idea. I thought it was a great idea. I said, 'I'm in. That's cool.' It was just a matter of when. I was hoping it would be sooner rather than later. It was kind of heavy for my caddie to carry."
The situation: Ford Championship, third round, par-4 16th hole, tee shot.
The shot: After a 2004 season in which he failed to record a stroke-play victory, we were still unsure of what to expect from Tiger while he was working on win number two of the '05 campaign. Perhaps more so than any shot he'd hit in two years, this drive proved he was back and better than ever. The 16th hole at Doral measures 347 yards, but the teebox was moved up 25 yards in an effort to tempt players to go for the green. Like Woods needed an excuse. He gripped and ripped, knocking his driver onto the green, from which he two-putted for an easy birdie.
Woods' take: "I went for it the other day and I hit it in the right bunker. I thought I hit a good line to be center of the green and I missed it to the right. So I aimed it just a little bit further left this time and just said, 'You know what, just go ahead and swing hard just in case you might catch it.' And I caught it pretty good."
The situation: Tour Championship, third round, par-3 18th hole, second shot from greenside bunker.
The shot: Technically, the Tour Championship title wasn't claimed until Sunday afternoon. But when Bryant holed his bunker shot on this nasty finishing par-3 in the glowing twilight of Saturday afternoon, it became evident that the trophy was as good as his already. Bryant's ball was nestled in the trap so closely to playing partner Retief Goosen's that a rules official was needed to oversee the shots. Goosen called it "as easy a shot as you could find on that hole," but of course, he wasn't the one who made it. The birdie gave Bryant a three-stroke lead entering the final day and he cruised from there.
Bryant's take: "Luckily, it came off as planned. ... So far it's been a lot of fun, and certainly there's been a couple of magic spots, for sure."
The situation: PGA Tour Qualifying School, final round, par-5 18th hole, third shot from greenside rough.
The shot: If the six rounds of Q School are considered the most pressure-packed competition in professional sports, then what do you call one shot, in the final round, with your entire career on the line? Ellis simply called it "awesome," after his chip bounced a little, spun a little, rolled a little and did a little waltz as it dropped into the cup. The eagle moved him from 9-under for the event to 11-under, exactly what he needed to gain PGA Tour membership for next season.
Ellis' take: "I couldn't believe it. It was going and going and going and hit the pin and went in. It was awesome."
The situation: Funai Classic, final round, par-4 18th hole, third shot from greenside bunker.
The shot: Speaking of Q School, Glover knows a thing or two about dealing with its stressful nature. Last year, he birdied three of the final four holes to regain full status for 2005. Perhaps that helped when the pressure mounted down the stretch at Disney. After holing a 30-foot birdie putt on 17, Glover needed to put his final-hole bunker shot close just give himself a chance at par and force a playoff. Instead, he knocked it right in the hole for his very own classic Disney fairytale ending.
Glover's take: "It wasn't a bunker shot I walked up to and said, 'Hey, let's make this one.' It was one of those, 'Let's get it close and get out of here.' Like making a long putt every now and again, you think I'll just lag it up there, and then it gets to the front edge and then just kind of trickles in. Same kind of mentality on that shot, get it close and see what happens. And it was my time. That's all there was to it."
The situation: Senior PGA Championship, final round, par-5 18th hole, second shot from fairway.
The shot: Mike Reid was an afterthought at the Senior PGA. As in, after Dana Quigley couldn't clinch the title and after Jerry Pate couldn't lock it up, people finally thought of Reid. Sixteen years after having a chance to win both The Masters and PGA Championship but failing to secure either, the man known as Radar reached the final green in two, leaving his 3-iron shot 20 feet from the hole. The ensuing eagle will be more celebrated for years to come, but it couldn't have happened without the shot before it.
Reid's take: "I hit a 3-iron, which I thought would leave me about 20 feet behind the hole, if I hit it well. But I pulled it a little bit and it caught a little low on the face. The fairway, you get hanging lies there in that fairway. It wasn't a terrible shot, but it wasn't perfect, but it hit the fringe and sort of tumbled forward. I couldn't see it, but I could tell by the crowd applause that I had a putt."
The situation: Barclays Classic, final round, par-5 18th hole, eagle putt.
The shot: Until he won the Honda Classic, Harrington was always a bridesmaid, never a bride, so to speak. With 26 career second-place finishes worldwide, the man from Dublin had earned an unseemly reputation. But as any Irishman will tell you, when it rains, it pours. Such was the case just three months later, as Harrington rammed home this snaking, curving, sliding 65-foot eagle putt to defeat Jim Furyk on the final hole for his second win of the season.
Harrington's take: "Obviously, it's very special to win, but to hole a putt on the last green and to actually get to watch a putt going in on the last green -- because I got to watch it a good five seconds going into the hole as it got there or a couple of seconds as it was right in the middle of the hole -- I didn't experience that before in winning a tournament. Normally you have a short putt or two putts to win or whatever. But the excitement of following that putt down the green and seeing it breaking towards the hole and keep breaking and straighten out and in she went, very special."
The situation: John Deere Classic, second round, par-4 18th hole (her 9th), second shot from fairway.
The shot: For those who felt Wie didn't belong playing in PGA Tour events -- fans, reporters, the male professionals she was competing against -- this may have been the shot that changed a few minds. With the pressure on (Wie was flirting with the cut line throughout the round), she knocked her 161-yard approach stiff, leaving it six inches from the pin. Perhaps this one shot didn't single-handedly prove she belongs, but it showed she has plenty of game and even prompted one male fan to yell, "I love you, Michelle."
Wie's take: "That felt great. It was awesome, them cheering for me like that. I thought I was going deaf it was so loud. I mean, it was awesome. It was such a wonderful feeling."
The situation: Sybase Classic, final round, par-4 18th hole, birdie putt.
The shot: Yes, we realize the irony of Creamer's 17-foot birdie putt that clinched her first career win falling one spot behind Wie's shot during a round in which she missed the cut. In a season during which she was the LPGA's Rookie of the Year and finished second on the money list, Creamer was often overshadowed by news of younger phenoms like Wie and Morgan Pressel. But she took a backseat to no one at the Sybase, becoming the youngest player to win on the leadies' tour in 53 years.
Creamer's take: "I was thinking actually more about the second putt if I missed it coming back, because I knew Gloria [Park] blew it by about five feet past the hole. And I thought, 'There's no way I'm going to do it, it's just going to get to the hole.' And it barely fell in. I didn't think it was going in at first. I think it willed its way into the hole."
The situation: Buick Championship, final round, first playoff hole (par-4 18th), second shot from fairway bunker.
The shot: Let's just say the cards were stacked against Faxon in Hartford. He entered the event with a torn ACL that needed surgery. He made the cut, but barely; after completing his second round, Faxon even wagered $286.67 with a tournament official that he wouldn't be back for the weekend. Oh, and this little note: He hadn't won on tour in four years. So it took a minor miracle for Faxon to shoot 65-61 in the final two rounds and even make it to the playoff. Once there, he stuck a 7-iron from 169 yards to within three feet of the hole and claimed the title minutes later after rolling in the birdie putt.
Faxon's take: "When I saw it in the bottom of the bunker, I knew I at least had a decent shot at it. I had a fair lie, not a great lie, but a good yardage, similar to the yardage I had in regulation, and I knew it was the right club; it was just can you hit it straight, and it got there. ... [My best shot] ever? Automatically it would be top-five. But to hit it that close in that situation in a playoff, yeah, that's crazy."
The situation: Toshiba Senior Classic, final round, par-5 18th hole, third shot from fairway.
The shot: In his rookie season on the Champions Tour, Johnson earned the nickname Beer Man because, well, that's exactly what he was. In his previous employment, Johnson drove a Budweiser delivery truck for 18 years before turning pro in 1998. As he stood over his third shot on the final hole, Johnson led by two strokes, his first victory seemingly in the bag. Then he simply made the quickest delivery of his career, knocking in the eagle shot to clinch the win and the large cash prize.
Johnson's take: "You know, $247,500 is a lot of money for a beer truck driver. It would take seven, eight years for me to make that delivering beer."
The situation: LPGA Corning Classic, final round, par-3 15th hole, tee shot.
The shot: Surely, this list would be incomplete without mention of a hole-in-one and this ace by Kang was the most prolific of the season. Fighting for the lead down the stretch, the 2004 Futures Tour Players of the Year slam-dunked her 9-iron tee shot -- the fourth ace of the week, a tournament record -- then played the final three holes in 1-under to earn her first career win, holding off Sorenstam and Meena Lee by two strokes.
Kang's take: "I gripped a 9-iron. I gripped it a lot. Yeah, gripped a 9-iron, hit it solid, and I think it bounced, one bounce in, twice, I couldn't tell. You wonder why I wear glasses."
The situation: Buick Invitational, final round, par-5 18th hole, third shot from fairway bunker.
The shot: Of course, not every shot on this list can land in the hole or clinch a tournament victory. Sometimes a shot is, well, too good. Such was the case for Howell, who knocked a sand wedge so stiff that it actually disappeared into the hole, only to pop out, roll off the front of the green and into the nearby water hazard. To add insult to misery, had the ball stayed in the cup it would have meant eagle for Howell and a playoff against eventual winner Woods; instead, he took bogey and finished three strokes off the pace.
Howell's take: "I got out there and it was 95 yards. It was a perfect three quarter sand wedge. It couldn't have been a better yardage to drive it in the bunker, to leave with such a good number, that's pretty accessible with a back stop back there. I knew I hit the shot perfect. I knew it was going to be the right distance. And then to hit the hole and go into the water, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry."
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com
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