‘It was like seeing his video game in real life’: Aussies remember their first time with Tiger

Tiger Woods’ place in golf history is secured, yet his influence stretches far beyond major wins and tournament titles.

He changed the way golf was perceived by young athletes and shook golf’s establishment to its very foundations.

The fist pumps. The red shirt. The steely stare down the stretch.

Tiger Woods did everything but turn golf into a contact sport.

The way he obliterated the world’s best golfers first at the 1997 Masters and then the 2000 US Open elevated his status to almost mythical proportions and fostered a level of Sunday intimidation that became a hallmark of his career.

As Woods plays host for this week’s Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, PGA TOUR Staff Writer Ben Everill asked Aussie pros for their memories of the first time they played with Tiger Woods.

ADAM SCOTT: “I had just decided to turn pro in 2000 and got Butch Harmon’s blessing to do that because he was coaching me, and of course Tiger, at the time. We talked about it and he felt strongly that I should go and play in Europe first and gain some experience. A week or so before the US Open, I was in Las Vegas and Tiger was stopping in on the Sunday before heading to Pebble Beach. Butch said to me on Saturday, ‘Tiger is coming in and if he goes and plays, you can play with him.’ So I was nervous, of course.

“We went out and played and we had a match, and I was maybe 1-down through the turn at Rio Secco, and then Tiger stepped it up and went birdie, birdie, birdie and had an eagle. He closed me out on the 14th and shot 63 – with a double bogey at the ninth. I was a bit blown away by what I saw. It was quite windy and I thought I played quite well. I probably shot even par and I was nine off the pace. I made a throwaway comment to Butch, something like, ‘Maybe I should reconsider turning pro.’ The only thing that made me feel good was he won the US Open by 15 the next week, so I was quite happy to see that no one else really played like that.”

MARC LEISHMAN: “Brandt Snedeker and I got him for the first time at the 2009 BMW Championship in the FedExCup Playoffs in the final group. But unlike ‘Sneds’ I wasn’t in the final group until the next morning. Weather came through and they changed to threesomes, so I didn’t have to sleep on it, I was just thrown into it – which was probably better. On the first tee, I was so nervous I was going to hit driver even though it was too much club. I just wanted to be certain I got the ball in the air. But I calmed down enough to hit a good 3-wood.”

CAMERON PERCY: “The one and only time for me was the 2009 Australian Masters, final round. After the third round, I got in my car and was driving out of Kingston Heath with the golf on the radio and someone missed a putt on 18 and with that, I hear, ‘That means Cameron Percy is playing with Tiger Woods tomorrow.’ I just about ran off the road. My phone then went crazy for the next 10 minutes and when I got home, my wife was there and she’s like, ‘Well done. Who are you playing with tomorrow?’ I deadpanned to her: ‘Oh you know, just Tiger Woods.’ Her mum was there and she just about had a breakdown.”

ROD PAMPLING: “It was 1999 before The Open Championship at Carnoustie and [caddie] Steve Williams helped schedule a practice round for 6am with Stuart Appleby and me. It was my first major so I was excited but it was pissing down with rain and I’m there with my caddie, thinking Tiger is not going to show. But sure enough he did and we went straight to the tee. Tiger was saying that we will be ahead of the field by practising in the shocking conditions as no one else would play in it. I had a mind to believe him after it worked for me in the first round. [Pampling led after being the only player to shoot even par in high winds during the first round with the field average being 78.31 but shot 86 in the second round to miss the cut]. Some of the shots you saw from him just seemed from another planet.”

JASON DAY: “I grew up reading his book and idolising Tiger so for my first time to be an Australian Open in my early 20s was like it wasn’t real. I’d watched him on television for so long that when that day came it was almost like he was just a character. The one memory I have of his game was seeing his famous stinger shot for the first time in person. It was at the par-5 eighth at The Lakes and he had like 300 yards into a 20-yard wind and he hit this low bullet, 3-wood to about 20 feet. I was hitting driver off the deck about 20 yards short. His shot came out like 10 feet off the ground and was just hunting the whole way. I could only shake my head. It was so cool. It was like seeing his video game in real life.”

RHEIN GIBSON: “It was the 2014 British Open and I was the last guy to make the cut. I had to birdie 18 at Liverpool from about 12 feet to make it and at the time figured it was to be first out Saturday with Jordan Spieth. But then, for the first time in the history of the British Open, they decided to do threesomes off two tees, so instead of being the first out at 7am, now I’m last out with Spieth and Tiger off the 10th. I didn’t get my tee time until like 10 or 10.30 at night.

“It was weird because I had a bunch of family and friends come out because it was my first major and we were already happy to have made the cut and then it goes up a notch when I get thrown to the wolves with Tiger. Everyone was excited but all of a sudden it was after midnight and I was like, I got to go to bed!

“Next morning Spieth and I are just in a normal bus to get out to the 10th tee and we are joking, ‘Where’s Tiger?’ and all of a sudden this black Mercedes backs up to the tee and he and Joe [LaCava, caddie] get out with his clubs. It was all so cool but then I lost my first tee shot into a gorse bush so I had to hit two off the first tee. We had a couple of jokes about that – I said as we walked off the tee, ‘Hey Tiger, I get two off the first [a mulligan] against you, right?’ He smiled and we had some good banter for the rest of the round.”

AARON BADDELEY (2000 Masters, first two rounds): “I was an amateur and the clearest memory was on the first hole after I hit it in the fairway bunker, hit it from there into a greenside bunker and made bogey. We walked off the green and Tiger walks next to me and he says, ‘I know you made bogey, but it’s a much better bogey than my first bogey here. I putted it off the green my first hole at the Masters, so I’d say you’re OK.’ That was funny and loosened me up a bit for sure.”

GREG CHALMERS (Eisenhower Trophy at Le Golf National, Paris): “I was 19 and I think he was 16 or 17. I had heard of him but had no idea what I was in for. Tiger was definitely a little wild off the tee that day but when he got everything right it was like nothing I had ever seen; I honestly didn’t think it was possible to hit shots that good. The strike and the sound were just brilliant and he was just a teenager. I wish I had bet on him winning a huge bunch of tournaments back then!”

JOHN SENDEN (2007 Farmers Insurance Open, first two rounds): “When I saw him on the first tee, I remember feeling like he just looks like the guy to beat. He was so calm and confident and of course looked like exactly what he was – the best player in the world. We started on the North Course and I shot 64 to beat his 66 on the first day so it was a nice small claim to fame that afternoon at least. Then he beat me by three on the South in the second round and went on to shoot 69-66 on the weekend to win the tournament.”

To read the full story including recollections from Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm and Jack Nicklaus, click here.

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