VERONA, N.Y. (AP) — Notah Begay III couldn’t have scripted it any better.
With more than 3,000 awestruck fans watching his every move, Tiger Woods captured the second annual Notah Begay III Foundation Challenge on Monday, surging past Camilo Villegas in the closing holes at Turning Stone Resort’s Atunyote Golf Club.
After Villegas won $180,000 with a birdie at the 14th hole to boost his winnings for the day to $200,000 in the skins game format, Woods won the next three holes to finish with $230,000.
Begay birdied No. 18 for $70,000, while Canada’s Mike Weir was shut out for the second straight year.
Begay received a check for $750,000 for his foundation and Woods, his roommate in college at Stanford and his longtime friend, departed with the winning trophy, a piece of Pueblo Indian black pottery from Begay’s home state of New Mexico.
It was a rare appearance by the world’s top player, whose schedule leaves little room for such forays. Woods was glowing afterward, the stunning loss to Y.E. Yang in the PGA Championship a week ago erased by a few swings for charity.
“Today was incredible, to come here and bring awareness to what Notah is trying to do,” said Woods, who won five holes to three for Villegas. “It’s great to see what he’s doing, to put his heart, soul and passion into something like this and bring this many people together to help them understand and educate the public. I’m just so proud of him as a friend. We’ve been through a lot together.”
The event is a collaboration between the Oneida Indian Nation of New York and San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians of California. Begay, the only full-blooded Native American to play on the PGA Tour, established his foundation in 2005. It uses the sports of golf and soccer to promote physical fitness and wellness among Native American youth, who are plagued by obesity and diabetes.
“To have Tiger be a part of this is just a tremendous asset for the foundation and the event,” Begay said. “I think he enjoyed himself. He beat us, but I think we’ve kind of grown accustomed to that.”
Just like a year ago, the first six holes were worth $10,000 apiece, the second six $20,000, holes 13 through 17 were worth $50,000 each, and No. 18 was worth $70,000.
Villegas won the inaugural event and seemed set to make it two in a row. After Woods birdied No. 8 to reach $80,000, the players halved the next five holes to boost the purse for No. 14 to $180,000.
Villegas hit his second shot at the 410-yard, par 4 to within 8 feet of the pin, then dropped to the turf in his spiderlike stance to study the line for the putt. After Woods’ birdie try slid a foot past the pin and Weir’s slid just left of the hole, Villegas calmly rolled his in.
Undaunted, Woods, the bottom of his gray pants wet from walking the soggy course, hit his second shot at the par-4 15th hole, a 442-yard dogleg, inside 10 feet of the pin and won the $50,000 hole.
With a stiff right-to-left wind blowing at they teed off at No. 16, Woods hit to 8 feet and curled in another birdie putt for another $50,000 as this three rivals failed to match him.
At No. 17, another par 4, after Villegas lipped out a 15-foot birdie putt and Weir missed again just left, Woods calmly sank the winning putt, a perfectly paced 12-footer for birdie.
Villegas had a chance for the win at the par-5 18th hole when Woods found a greenside bunker with his second shot. But after the Colombian star pitched to within 5 feet of the pin on his third shot, he missed the birdie putt and Begay, despite an ailing back that relegated him to riding in a cart for a few holes, capitalized for the only time in two years.
The last time Woods appeared in a major skins game format was in 2005, when he competed against Fred Couples, Fred Funk and Annika Sorenstam. Funk ended up the star in that nationally televised event, winning the most skins and showing some skin of his own by donning a skirt at one point after getting outdriven by Sorenstam.
Woods was scheduled to play in Begay’s event a year ago but had to skip it after injuring his knee. He made good on his promise this year and hinted that he might return.
“I’d do anything for him,” Woods said. “What he’s trying to do, and what he has done for Native American communities is unheard of, really.”