Winning memories of TPC Harding Park for Tiger Woods
Memories are there to embolden Tiger Woods at this week’s PGA Championship.
There’s brilliance to remember coming back to TPC Harding Park.
Yes, Woods has played just two events as a professional at the venerable San Francisco course, but if it had been among the game’s regular stops in his prime, he might remember it with Augusta National, Torrey Pines, Bay Hill, Firestone and Muirfield Village as the places he thrived most.
Woods was that good when he beat John Daly in a sudden-death playoff at Harding Park to win the WGC-American Express Championship in 2005 and again when he led the Americans to victory there with his 5-0 record at the Presidents Cup in 2009.
Yes, those triumphs unfolded a long time ago, back with Woods reigning as world No. 1 during both of those events, in years when he was the PGA’s Player of the Year, but his best isn’t that far removed from his memory anymore. He doesn’t have to reach back much to remember the form that helped him win the Tour Championship at the end of the ’18 season, the Masters in the spring of 2019 and Zozo Championship last fall.
If his back holds up, Woods won’t surprise anyone making a run at history at TPC Harding Park.
If he can shake the rust of so much down time as a 44-year-old amid the coronavirus pandemic, he could electrify the game yet again. A victory would move him past Sam Snead, to 83 PGA Tour titles, the most ever.
If Woods wins this week, he will also equal Jack Nicklaus and Walter Hagen as record five-time winners of the PGA Championship. He would add to the titles he won at Medinah in 1999 and 2006, at Valhalla in 2000 and Southern Hills in ’07. It would be his 16th major championship triumph, leaving him just two behind Nicklaus’ record.
Though Woods was raised in Southern California, he knows Northern California as a kind of second home to his golf. He’s comfortable there having played so many of the Bay Area courses as a junior and later as a collegian while at Stanford.
“This is like a home event for me,” Woods said back when he won that ’05 WGC-American Express Championship.
The Harding Park renovation he won at that year didn’t look much like the course he first played when he was 12.
“It’s certainly not the golf course when I was pretty young playing it,” Woods said. “It used to be basically a clover field out here.”
But in that victory, Woods remembered what he liked about the routing, the shot’s required in original architects Willie Watson and Sam Whiting’s layout.
“You have to shape shots again,” he said. “You have to move the golf ball both ways.”
Woods did just that chasing down Daly on the back nine in the final round in ’05.
Three shots down at the turn, Woods made a move early on the back nine, playing in the group in front of Daly. He made birdies at the 10th, 11thand 12th holes.
Daly didn’t back down, scrapping to take a two-shot lead with three holes to play in regulation.
As much as Woods can electrify galleries, he noted the frenzy Daly created all week.
“I played right in front of him the first two days,” Woods said. “He’d drive it on par 4s and people are going nuts, bananas, screaming.”
Woods ignited more than a little noise himself at Harding Park in that Sunday finish. He birdied the 16th, gaining a tie for the lead after Daly bogeyed the 17th. A pair of pars at the 72nd hole sent them into a playoff that drove the decibel levels even higher.
Woods and Daly knew what their playoff pairing meant.
They knew their duel was resonating beyond golf late on that autumn afternoon.
“I don’t think there are a lot of people watching NFL football right now,” Daly said as they headed to the playoff.
Woods said it was difficult to hear amid the revelry.
“When we were taking the carts back to the tee, I couldn’t hear anything,” Woods said. “In my left ear, I'm half deaf, people whistling and screaming, and then my right ear, I'm half deaf. It was electric, it was loud. People were really into it.”
Woods ultimately won with a par at the second playoff hole, after Daly three putted from 15 feet, including the decisive miss from 3 feet.
It was an exclamation point on another big year for Woods.
He won six times in 2005, including two majors, the Masters and The Open.
There were more fireworks to come at Harding Park four years later, when Woods led the Americans there for the Presidents Cup.
Woods teamed with Steve Stricker to rout just about everyone they faced that week.
They dominated Geoff Ogilvy and Ryo Ishikawa 6 and 4 in Thursday foursomes.
They ran over Angel Cabrera and Ogilvy 5 and 3 in Friday fourballs.
They made easy work of Y.E. Yang and Ishikawa 4 and 2 in Saturday fourballs.
The only close match they played all week was against Tim Clark and Mike Weir in Saturday foursomes, but that only gave San Francisco one more moment to relish the thunder Woods could summon over the city.
A shot down with one hole to play, Woods rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt to even the match, igniting roars as he unleashed a fiery barrage of fist pumps.
At the 18th, he carved a gorgeous, towering 3-iron into the sky, twirling his club in a triumphant follow through as the ball settled 8 feet from the hole, setting up an eagle. The Internationals waved the white flag, conceding the hole and the match.
Woods and Stricker were perfect on the week, becoming the first team to go 4-0 in the event’s history.
Woods wasn’t done mastering Harding Park and anyone standing in his way there. He saved his coup de grace for Yang, the guy who put the only blemish on Woods’ mark with 54-hole leads in majors (14-1).
Just two months earlier, Yang took down Woods to win the PGA Championship, overcoming Woods’ two-shot lead going into the final round at Hazeltine.
Woods didn’t just level Yang 6-and-5 in singles.
He delivered the clinching point for the Americans.
Woods did that with one of his own childhood idols watching as an the assistant captains on the American team. He won the highest kind of praise from Michael Jordan, who saw something of himself in the way Woods dominated that week.
“It’s like looking in a mirror in certain respects,” Jordan said.
Ten years later, Jordan marveled yet again when Woods won the Masters for a fifth time, with Woods coming back from back and knee surgeries and from serious personal issues to win his first major in 11 years.
Even Jordan acknowledged he didn’t see that coming.
“It was the greatest comeback I’ve ever seen,” Jordan said.
The world will be watching to see if Harding Park is a pathway to yet more greatness in Woods’ journey.