When Woods was in college at Stanford, he began an enduring friendship with Bill Walsh, who was coaching the Cardinal football team at the time. Last Friday a public memorial was held in San Francisco for Walsh, who died on July 30 of leukemia. At the ceremony a telegram from Woods describing Walsh as almost a second father to him during his freshman year was read to the 8,000 fans, former players and Walsh acolytes in attendance. At Southern Hills that day, 1,700 miles away, Woods paid tribute to the old coach with a virtuoso performance of golf's version of the West Coast offense, as he picked apart the course's defenses one little swing at a time.
When it was over, Woods had tied the lowest score at a major championship with a 63, though he called it a 62 1/2 after spinning out his 15-footer on the final hole. For the round, Woods made well more than 100 feet of putts including a momentum-building 35 footer to save par after landing in a bunker on number 12 and he chipped in at the 14th, but this 63 was a monument to decisionmakingand restraint. Woods birdied one par-3, the 14th, and this is what he hit off the tee to set up the seven other birdies: a two-iron, a three-iron, two four-irons, a five-irons, a three-wood and a driver.
Said Oberholser, who tied for fourth, seven strokes back, "He just plods along with such horrifying precision."
Woods's ability to outthink the competition first came into sharp relief during his masterly win at last year's British Open, in which he used a conservative game plan to navigate the baked fairways and penal pot bunkers at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake, England. But just as the 1997 Masters was the defining performance by the young Woods, who overwhelmed with raw power, this PGA confirmed his ascension as an unparalleled tactician. Compared with the relatively expansive links at Hoylake, Southern Hills offered far less margin for error. It is a little bandbox of a course, framed in grabby bermuda rough with tight, tree-lined fairways that dogleg in inconvenient places. There are only two par-5s on a par.70 that stretches to 7,131 yards. The players compared it last week with Colonial and Valderrama, two claustrophobic courses Woods is known to loathe. But if either of those tracks were to be awarded a major championship, Woods would surely embrace their challenges just long enough to master them.
"You play what the golf course gives you," Woods says, "and one thing I've learned about playing over the years is not to go against that."
Not that he has become a piker; Woods still has plenty of power in reserve when he needs it. During the opening round at Southern Hills he reached the 653-yard par-5 5th hole in two mighty blows, the second of which was a 298-yard threewood that nestled within 15 feet of the hole. The ensuing birdie highlighted a 71 that afterward had Woods ruing his missed opportunities. At one over par he was six shots off the lead of unknown Englishman Graeme Storm and four behind the real story of the first round, John Daly, whose presence on the leader board.and inevitable tumble off of it.helped to further illustrate Woods's discipline.
Daly's combination of power and touch is in the same class as Woods's, but that's where the comparison ends. Daly arrived in Tulsa two days before the tournament started but didn't lay eyes on Southern Hills until Thursday's first round, preferring to spend his time (and money) at the nearby Cherokee Casino. Woods, meanwhile, began plotting his strategy with a Monday practice round at sunrise, about 11 hours after he had won the Bridgestone Invitational, which was played 900 miles away in Akron. When the tournament proper began, Daly mindlessly bashed his way around Southern Hills, playing a brand of caveman golf in which he hit driver on nearly every hole, consequences be damned. He got lucky for one round, but on Friday, Daly made four bogeys and a double to shoot 73 and fall six back of Woods, whose 63 had propelled him two shots clear of the field.