‘Even today, people call me the Tiger killer’: Ed Fiori revisits the day he took down Tiger Woods
Forgive me, please, if I start to get a little too sentimental. That’s what this week’s John Deere Classic means to me.
The year was 1996. I was old (43), heavy, and, being kind to myself, didn’t exactly pound the ball. Yet there I was, in the final group on Sunday at Oakwood Country Club in Coal Valley, Ill. Back then, when the Tour stopped in this part of the country, it was called the Quad City Classic.
Whatever it was called, the place was packed. Of course, the people were not there to see me. Heavens, no. They were there to see my playing partner. And, really, who could blame them? The day before, on the 1st tee – I was paired with him in the third round, as well – I introduced myself.
“Tiger, I wonder if I can get a couple of autographs for my kids,” I asked.
“Sure,” he said.
“They’re about the same age as you are,” I told him.
Tiger, only 20 and playing in just his third event as a pro, chuckled. Which was about all we said to each other those two days. He was that dialed in. So was I, by the way.
Known as “The Grip” for my strong grip on the club, I had not won a Tour event in 14 long years, since beating Tom Kite in a playoff in Palm Springs. I’d missed the cut in 10 of my last 18 starts with not a single top-20 finish. I wasn’t the smartest guy in the world, but I was smart enough to know that these chances to win a golf tournament don’t come often. Not for a guy like me.
Being in this position, in fact, was the furthest thing from mind when I got to the course that Tuesday.
“We’re not playing very well,” I told my caddie, Bullet, after a couple of practice rounds.
“Don’t worry about it,” Bullet said. “Just do your best.”
For me, when paired with Tiger, that meant, and I’m sorry to use the cliché, playing my own game. During those two rounds, I made sure not to watch Tiger hit a single tee shot. I was afraid studying his rhythm would disrupt my own. I looked at the cameramen, the fans, the pretty girls. I looked at anything but Tiger Woods.
Of course, by the reactions of the gallery, I knew he had hit his drives a long way – on average, about 80 yards past me. Good thing my pride could take it.
Nor did I read the sports section on Sunday morning. I knew every story would be about Tiger, who had the 54-hole lead by one. I watched a movie – don’t ask me which one – and listened to music. By the time I teed off, two off Tiger’s lead, I was ready.
Or at least I thought I was. A quick bogey at the 1st dropped me three back. That’s not a good place to be when you’re chasing a legend in waiting.
Everything changed on No. 4. Tiger hooked his drive into the pond. I lost track of him for a bit, so it wasn’t until I was standing on the next tee, and saw the standard bearer put in a new number, that I realized what had happened. Tiger had made a quad. A quad! Suddenly, I was one shot ahead.
If you think that’s hard to believe, check out what Tiger did on No. 7. He four-putted for a double bogey with one power lip after another. That, I did happen to watch. There’s no other way to put it: The kid self-imploded.
“Bullet, let’s see if we can get this one in to the house,” I said. Which I did, winning by two shots over Andrew Magee; Tiger wound up four back. People were surprised, no one more than yours truly.
Tiger and I shook hands afterward. “You’re going pretty good,” I told him. “Where you playing next?”
“Next week,” he said.
And off he went to the next event – and his remarkable career. I am closer to the Jack Nicklaus era but I have no doubt saying that Tiger is, by far, the greatest player ever.
As for me, I hung on for a few more years, and played for a while on the senior tour, but my back was always a problem. I had spinal fusion surgery in 2005, and from then on, I struggled to break 80. Finally, four years ago, after another surgery, the doctor told me I had to stop playing entirely; I was doing too much damage.
Do I miss playing? You bet.
These days, I call myself the pool boy. I clean the pool at our home in Richmond, Texas, outside Houston, and buy the groceries for the wife and me. Don’t feel sorry for me, though. I’ve had a great life in a game I love. It was never easy. Lots of times, I was on that flight heading home on Friday nights. I’d get a lesson, and be back on the plane Monday morning.
But I would not trade it for anything. Even today, people call me the Tiger killer. They don’t always get their facts straight, but I don’t mind.
I’ll never forget that weekend at the John Deere.
To receive GOLF’s all-new newsletters, subscribe for free here.