It was a tribute to Woods's powers of concentration that his impending announcement had no negative effect in Portland. "It just made him want it more," said Earl Woods on Sunday night. On the many occasions last week when he was asked about when he intended to turn pro, Tiger simply said, "In the future." In fact, while his purpose at Pumpkin Ridge was to make history, Woods put even that out of his mind. "I can't afford to think about it," he said. "I know from experience that that just causes anxiousness." For all his strength and creativity, Woods proved last week that it is his ability to focus on the task at hand that is his greatest weapon as a player. Asked if he believed he was the toughest player, mentally, in the field, he answered without hesitation, "Yes, I do."
And almost from the start, Woods both played and acted as if he were. At the Amateur the low 64 players after two rounds of medal play qualify for match play. Woods was the medalist, with a 69-67-136, and then he made a tough-minded decision by benching his caddie, sports psychologist Jay Brunza, who had carried his bag in each of his five previous USGA victories. He replaced Brunza with his best friend since boyhood, Bryon Bell. The change caused no consternation in the Woods camp. In fact, after Woods's first-round victory over J.D. Manning, Woods, Bell and Brunza made a nostalgic visit to nearby Waverly Country Club, where Woods won his third Junior, in '93. "That was inspiring, and Tiger really drew on that memory," said Brunza, who cheerfully accepted being asked to give up his caddie duties. "Tiger decided I could better help him from outside the ropes. Bryon clubs Tiger better than I do. I trust Tiger's judgment about what he needs to win."
Woods had no significant problems until the championship's 18-hole semifinal, when he fell 2 down after four holes to his Stanford teammate Joel Kribel. But after saving himself from going 3 down at the 10th with a stunning 50-yard up and down out of a bunker, Woods gained confidence while Kribel lost his. After making two birdies and an eagle on the back nine, Woods won 3 and 1. "All I have to do is stay strong up here," he said, pointing to his head.
Doing that was no small task after he stumbled badly, going 4 down in the opening nine of the 36-hole final against Scott, a pugnacious 19-year-old who this week began his sophomore year at Florida. Nearly 15,000 fans—the biggest gallery at an Amateur since Jones chased down the Grand Slam at Merion in Philadelphia in 1930—saw Woods relentlessly light back from what grew into a five-hole deficit with 16 to play. In doing so, Woods was reprising his comeback from the same margin with 13 holes left in the '94 Amateur final against Trip Kuehne.
This was no Faldoesque resurgence, dependent on the mistakes of the hunted. Built on huge drives and long putts, Woods's push came against a surefooted opponent and carried the aura of a desperate fourth-quarter rally by Michael Jordan or John Elway, with virtuosity achieved with no margin for error.
Woods hit 28 of the last 29 greens in regulation. During the afternoon 18, when Scott shot what would have been a solid two-under-par 70 in medal play, Woods caught him with a bogeyless 65, the low round in a championship that had begun seven days earlier with 312 competitors. Tellingly, so focused was Woods on his prey that he had no idea until after the match that his score had been so low. "Given the circumstances," he said, "this has to be the best I've ever played."
Woods rallied by winning three straight holes beginning on the 21st. lie closed to within a hole, but then Scott sank a spectacular flop shot on the 28th to go 2 up. Woods got the momentum back on the next hole, a 553-yard par-5, when he hit a 350-yard drive and a five-iron to within 45 feet of the cup and rolled in a curling downhill putt for an eagle that trumped Scott's birdie. Scott again answered with a birdie on the 32nd, where Woods missed a six-footer to halve.
Two down with three left, Woods holed an eight-footer for a winning birdie on the 34th hole. Then on the 35th he put aside his frustration at pushing his approach 35 feet from the pin, narrowed his focus and drained his putt. "That's a feeling I'll remember for the rest of my life," said Woods, who repeatedly uppercut the air after his ball had dropped.
The rivals halved the 36th hole, and on the first hole of sudden death, Scott missed an 18-footer for the championship. Finally, on the 38th hole, the 194-yard, par-3 10th, Woods hit a softly fading six-iron, a shot he and Harmon have been working to perfect for more than a year, to 12 feet. Scott pushed his five-iron into the greenside rough and chipped 11 feet past the pin. Woods missed his putt, but so did Scott, and when Woods drilled an 18-incher into the hole to take the lead for the first time, the championship was over. Tiger immediately was hugged first by his mother, Kultida, and then by his father. "All I kept telling myself was that I've been here before," said Tiger. "The fortunate part was I had 36 holes."
Scott, gracious in defeat, felt fortunate too. "That was probably the best Amateur final match ever," he said, although he might get an argument from those who saw Nicklaus beat Charlie Coe at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs in 1959. "Just to be a part of it, I feel completely a winner."
Now Woods has a new pro career ahead and a new set of goals. If he gets off to a good start and keeps coming through with the fast finishes that made him an amateur for the ages, perhaps the odds on catching Nicklaus will grow shorter.