The thing you know about Ed "Grip" Fiori is that he beat Tiger Woods, way back when. The thing Tour players, of a certain generation, know about him is that he's smart. Smart about money. Smart about family life. Smart about Tour politics. Smart never to let anybody talk him out of the duck-hook grip with which he made a living. Just a straight-forward, clear-thinking smart guy. And Grip is here to tell you that come next month, at the Masters, he wouldn't be at all surprised to see Tiger Woods get his 15th major. He wouldn't be surprised to see Woods get his marriage back on track, too. Why? Because Grip knows, better than most, the m.o. of Woods's life: learn from your mistakes.
In 1996, Woods was playing beautifully in the third tournament of his professional life. He had the outright lead at the Quad Cities Classic through 54 holes. But he made a snowman on the fourth hole on Sunday and Grip, paired with Woods, was able to snatch the win from him. Woods tried to do too much, when all he really had to do was hang around. Three weeks later, Woods won his first tournament as a pro.
Grip admits he was shocked by what Tiger did last year at the PGA Championship. Woods had the solo lead through 54 holes, but his Sunday playing partner, Y.E. Yang, raced on by him and won. It was the first time since the Quad Cities in '96 that Woods failed to win after having the solo lead through three rounds. When Yang beat Woods last August, Tiger's wait for his 15th major continued. In the best of circumstances, his wait for his next crack would have been eight months. It turned out to be the worst of circumstances, but the wait still checks in at the legal minimum, eight months.
"What has he really missed here?" Fiori said on Tuesday, soon after the latest Tiger news broke. "Four, five tournaments, that's all. His focus will be on the majors. He'll break Jack's record. Tiger could win two majors just this year, easily. Some sponsor will be back on his bag. The fans will welcome him back. They'll cheer him. TV loves him. Everyone will watch. I'll watch. He can play shots that nobody else can play."
And when Woods gets his 15th major, and then Nos. 16 and 17 and 18 and 19, the whole sexcapade episode, pretty much everything you heard about Tiger from Thanksgiving through Valentine's Day, will look like a blip on a healthy EKG reading. Fiori was always one to look at things realistically. It's a good bet he's doing it again.
He knows Woods. Not well, but he knows him. He last saw him in Dallas, at the Byron Nelson Classic, years ago. He said, "Hey, Gripper, how's your dog?"
Fiori knows what a brush with Woods can do for a career. He's a player with four Tour wins and one senior win. But his footnote in Tiger's legend is his calling card, or at least much better known that his T-6 finish at the 1980 Masters.
That Woods has a corporate machine behind him, IMG? Fiori is fine with that. That Tiger's caddie, Steve Williams, is more famous than most players? Grip is fine with that. Ditto for Woods's swing coach, Hank Haney. That the PGA Tour commissioner makes special announcements regarding the comings and goings of Tiger Woods? Fiori's fine with that, too.
Of course, when Ed Fiori had a heart attack in 2002, and when he stopped playing the senior Tour in 2005 after spinal fusion surgery, there were no press releases from Tim Finchem. "I doubt he knew and I doubt he cared," Fiori said. All the attention the Tour bosses in Ponte Vedra Beach lavish on Woods bothers some players. Not Fiori. The game is star-driven and always has been, he says. He knows what Arnold and Jack did for his life.
Since that Sunday at the Quad Cities in '96, Ed Fiori's life has gone one way, and Tiger's another. "I've gotten a little fat, but what the hell," Grip says. "I play poker. I hunt. I fish. His life is more exciting, but you know what? I'll keep my life. He can keep his."
The man was speaking for more people than you could possibly count.