Contest winners hold their own -- for a while

Updated: October 8, 2002, 12:29 PM ET
By Darren Rovell | ESPN.com

WINDERMERE, Fla. -- "Can you take a look at my swing, Tiger?"

Four average golfers got to ask that question Sunday, playing 18 holes at Isleworth Country Club with the world's No. 1 player, thanks to an Upper Deck trading card promotion. They also got a chance to see Woods' competitive side, as he birdied the final three holes in a match which saw Woods play against the field.

It's not often Tiger Woods holds the flag for his playing partners.

"You would have had to pay me $3 million to $4 million for me to give up a day like this," said Greg Nichols, a 37-year-old canine officer from Meadville, Pa. "I would have had to be convinced that I could retire for the rest of my life."

Woods, who last played competitively in the Ryder Cup, dished out his fair share of advice, and barbs, during the 18-hole scramble near Woods' home.

And when it came time to get serious, Woods was his usual self. With the match even with three holes to go, he birdied them all to win by two.

"He wasn't leaving anything open for chance," said Michael Pecoraro of Coltsneck, N.J.. "Whether this was the British Open, the PGA Championship or just playing against us guys. There's no way he's going to give up any chance to win."

On the 16th hole, the foursome challenging Woods had an easy putt to perhaps take the lead for the first time. All of them missed, while Woods knocked in a 10-footer.

"Nothing seems to be wrong with the air for me," Woods joked. "How come all you guys are choking?"

Although golf with Woods, through previous auctions, have yielded bids of $2.1 million and $425,000, this lucky foursome -- thanks to the promotion -- paid much less.

Dale Lee, 53, from Hamilton, Ohio, spent about $500 to win his prize -- the cost of the 24 boxes of Upper Deck golf cards he opened, plus the cost of postage for the 100 sweepstakes cards his wife filled out and mailed.

Nichols, who outdrove Tiger once thanks to the fact that Woods was playing on the championship tees (while the others played the regular tees), paid less than $40, for the cost of the box he bought and the postage to mail in 42 sweepstakes cards. His wife Debbie, who had previously won an autographed photo of Matt Lauer from People magazine, frequented the post office in hopes of giving her husband the ultimate gift.

Pecoraro got the chance to play with Woods when his cousin picked the winning card out of a pack, but couldn't play.

"This is priceless," Pecoraro said.

Upper Deck bought the final winning card from an Omaha man for $34,529 and gave the opportunity to Jim Feldt, the CEO of Toys 'R Us.

Woods had plenty of time to interact with his playing partners. "I play pro-ams all the time," Woods said. "So I'm more used to this than you think."

They took advantage of his knowledge. On the ninth hole, Pecoraro asked Woods to analyze his tee shot, then drilled a driver down the middle of the fairway.

"Everything looks good to me," Woods said.

Pecoraro then put his 175-yard second shot 30 feet from the pin.

"You don't need any help," Woods said.

Earlier, Pecoraro -- who assumed the role of Woods' foil -- questioned why it had taken Woods so long to grab a lead.

"It only took him five holes guys, we've got him where we want him," Pecoraro said.

Woods had his own answers. He went up by two holes through six, and then turned on his golf cart radio, perhaps to distract the others.

"There are six speakers on this thing," Woods said, pointing to each one. He had a subwoofer put in, but said he recently got rid of it.

Later in the round, Pecoraro drained a 25-footer that Woods missed from a similar distance, evening the match. Said Pecoraro: "Don't worry Tiger, there's always next week."

Next week? The final three holes took care of that.

Pecoraro might have received his trip to Florida, with his wife and young daughter, for free, but he says there's plenty of paying up to do to his cousin Fred, who pulled the card.

"The payback is dinner," Pecoraro said. "It's fair. You've never seen Fred eat."

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at darren.rovell@espnpub.com

Darren Rovell | email

ESPN.com Sports Business reporter