It’s difficult to believe, but Tiger Woods has been travelling with the media circus since before social media was a thing. To refresh your memory, it was 25 years ago, on October 6, 1996, that the 20-year-old Woods won his first PGA Tour event in only his fifth appearance.
While the number of journalists on-site may have been low in comparison to this week’s Shriners Children’s Open – or at least in comparison to a month ago, when Woods made his pro debut in Milwaukee, or a few weeks prior, when he made a run at the Quad City Classic in Illinois – the Vegas storylines were plentiful.
Of course, this was fueled in large part by players who were dissatisfied with the huge hoopla surrounding Woods. “Everything has been Tiger, Tiger,” Fred Funk complained. “They kind of lose sight of everyone else out here.”
Such talk did not bother Woods, who arrived at the Las Vegas Invitational too young to gamble (“I can watch, that’s about it,” he shrugged), but he was already battle-tested when it came to media scrutiny and more than capable of brushing away the petty criticisms.
Woods’ ability to put behind him the poor opening round he shot at Las Vegas Hilton, one of three courses utilised for the five-round Las Vegas Invitational, was as impressive. Woods was eight strokes behind Rick Fehr’s lead after shooting a 70.
By this point, Woods had already exhibited the blazing skill that had propelled him to three consecutive US Amateur titles. Following a tie for 60th in his debut in Milwaukee, Woods went on to finish T11 in Canada, T5 in Quad City, and T3 in the B.C. Open. Prior to Vegas, he had scored in the 60s in seven of his eight rounds, so no one was surprised when Woods followed that 70 with a spectacular 63 at the host course, TPC Summerlin, and a 68 at Desert Inn to move into a tie for sixth, six shots behind Fehr’s lead.
So, Mr Funk, sorry, but it didn’t matter if seven guys had better 54-hole scores, or that luminaries like Davis Love III, Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Payne Stewart, and Jim Furyk were in attendance. All eyes were on Woods, especially because this was a 90-hole tournament, which meant the Stanford student had two more rounds to make up the deficit.
Though the third round kept Woods in the game, it had left him in anguish – both mentally and physically. After all, he’d played the front nine in 5-under, so a 68 left him fuming. But, more critically, Woods had worsened a groyne injury that he said had been there since his U.S. Amateur victory in August.
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