Golf fans often like to debate when, exactly, Tiger Woods‘ “prime” was. Was it between 1999 and 2002, when Tiger man-handled courses with his raw athleticism en route to winning the Tiger Slam? Or was it between 2005 and 2007, when a more strategic Tiger retooled his swing and boasted the highest winning percentage of his career?
I always come down on the side of the former. It was during those earlier years when we witnessed Tiger do things to a golf ball that we never could’ve imagined. It reframed everything we know about the game. He won tournaments from players who had no right losing, inspired an entire generation, and there’s perhaps no better embodiment of that idea than Tiger’s legendary bunker shot into the 72nd hole of the Canadian Open.
And the really funny thing? It was actually quite lucky.
Tiger came to Glen Abbey GC’s reachable par 5 18th with a one-shot lead over Grant Waite when he lost his drive into a fairway bunker down the right side.
Waite found left side of the green in two, so with a two-putt birdie to force a playoff on the table, Tiger pulled a six iron from 218 yards and aimed for the green.
The pin was tucked way to the right side of the green, sandwiched between a bunker long, water short and right, and a behind a tree that was impeding Tiger’s view.
Thanks to the on-course cameraman, who got an ideal down-the-line shot of Woods, we can see where Tiger was aiming. He wasn’t really thinking about the pin: His foot-line is tracking to the left side of the green.
And his club face looks like it’s aiming roughly parallel.
So, basically, Tiger is lining up to hit a left-to-right fade, starting at the left side of the green and leaking towards the middle.
It’s a smart play. Tiger was essentially guaranteed to win if he made a birdie, and he wouldn’t necessarily need to hole a putt to do it. Pretend the hole’s a par 4 and play for par, then it’s job done.
Except it almost went terribly, terribly wrong.
Look where his shot starts.
The ball’s tracking right. Way right — over the left side of that tree — and it’s still due to drift further right because of the spin he intended to putt on the shot. The announcer spotted trouble the second he hit it.
“Uh-oh,” he said, “That looks like it might’ve gone right,”
Throughout his career, Tiger’s predominant miss has been a block. You often see him block shots right during the heightened pressure on the first tee, and as he explained to the Golf Channel earlier in his career, it’s a lingering swing trait from his junior career: “That’s the product of being a junior golfer. All junior golfers fire the hips hard, get the club stuck on the inside so they can flip it and hit the ball a long way. Yea, you can hit the ball a long way, but it’s hard to control. And under the gun, lot’s of pressure on yourself, it’s hard to hit the ball a specific distance with the right shape.”
And that’s basically what happened here. Tiger made the same swing from the bunker as he did from the tee: He fired his hips too hard and tried to save it with his hands and body. He couldn’t time it correctly, so he lost both shots right.
For comparisons sake, look at how Tiger’s swing on the 18th tee (on the right) compared with a swing of his at the same event earlier in the week, which he striped down the middle.
In the left frame, he’s not desperately trying to turn everything over to catch up with his hips. His hands aren’t as deep and around his body, and his shoulders are more level. Everything’s more in-sync.
Anyway, the ball’s in the air, starting right. Warning signs are flashing, and even Tiger looks nervous. This isn’t going as planned.
But this is peak-level Tiger Woods we’re talking about.
The ball had so much velocity on it — it finished over the green — that it held its line enough to grab the very last bit of land right of the pin. And wait, the pin’s over there! The guts! The glory! What a shot!
A simple up-and-down later to match Waite’s birdie and the trophy was his. He had won by one. Golf is a game of misses, the old cliche goes, and there was probably no better miss than this.