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(Editor’s note: All this week, in honor of the 20-year anniversary of Tiger Woods’ “Better than Most” putt, we’ve been looking back at the magical moment at TPC Sawgrass, perhaps the greatest in the history of The Players Championship. Also see:
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Adam Scott called the putt heard round the golf world.
Seriously, the Aussie went all Nostradamus well before NBC commentator Gary Koch started saying “better than most” in the 2001 Players Championship.
Scott wasn’t playing in the tournament and to this day has no idea why he was at TPC Sawgrass. But he ended up doing guest commentary for Sky Sports alongside his coach, Butch Harmon, who also was working with Tiger Woods at the time.
During Saturday’s sunlit third round, the two were on a break and standing outside of the Sky Sports compound overlooking the famous 17th green.
Before them was Woods, surveying a putt from the back fringe of the island green that would need to break twice, slide down a steep ridge and travel 60 feet to reach the front-left pin placement. Up to then, a handful of players had putted from the top of the ridge on the 17th and every ball zoomed past the hole and off the green and onto the fringe below.
“This is such a hard putt,” Harmon said back then.
“I wouldn’t want it,” Scott said.
“He could putt the ball off the green,” Harmon said.
“Sure could,” Scott said.
“He could four-putt. He could three-putt. It sure as hell isn’t an easy two-putt. And it’s basically impossible to make the putt,” Harmon said.
“Just wait,” Scott said. “Wait until we hear the roar when he makes it.”
Woods made the Better Than Most putt, which was Koch’s famous phrase as the putt neared the hole and then disappeared. The Richter Scale went crazy, Woods started fist-pumping and roaring, and Harmon and Scott high-fived each other until their hands hurt.
“When I told Butch Tiger was going to make it, he laughed,” Scott said. “But sure enough, the putter was up in the air and the ball was going in. It just blew the roof off the place. It was unbelievable. If you watch the footage long enough, Tiger points up to Butch with a huge smile.
Tiger Woods points after sinking a 60-foot birdie putt at the 17th hole of the TPC Sawgrass Players Stadium Course on March 24, 2001, in the third round of The Players Championship. Woods went on to win the tournament two days later in a Monday finish. [Bob Self/Florida Times-Union]
“That was a pretty good one to be hanging out for as a spectator.”
After the round, Harmon met up with Woods.
“I said, ‘That was some putt you made on 17.’ And all he said was, ‘That was cool, wasn’t it Butchy.’ That’s all he ever said about it to me.”
It was cool, indeed. Well, not for everyone.
On the green with Woods was his caddie, Steve Williams, and Phil Mickelson and his caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay. The titanic pairing of the top 2 players in the world had already stirred up thunderous applause the first 16 holes but Woods’ putt was off the charts.
“I remember when the ball got to the crest of the slope that it had perfect pace,” Mickelson said 20 years later. “And then when it got to about 10 feet out it looked like he was going to make it. Seriously, from where he was, the ball was actually going to go in and I just remember thinking, ‘Are you frickin’ kidding me?’
“I had seen so much of that kind of stuff from him for so long it didn’t unnerve me. The guy certainly didn’t need any help, he was playing such great golf at the time. And then he makes a bomb. When you’re thinking he was going to three-putt and he makes it, it felt like a two-shot swing.
“Well, 20 years later, I still don’t really know what more I can say.”
Mackay said it was the most Tiger thing ever.
“I just remember laughing when it went in. Who else is going to make that putt? Are you kidding me?” Mackay said. “I was fortunate to be with Phil when he did something incredible, and when you see Tiger or someone else do something incredible, you just sort of look down and wait for that tidal wave of sound to hit you. So I saw the ball going toward the hole and you’re waiting that 10th of a second for the sound explosion and then it came. It was huge.”
Williams heartedly celebrated with his boss on the green.
“Tiger had an uncanny knack of making the impossible possible,” Williams said in an email. “It seemed like the more difficult the shot the more focused he became and he just relished any opportunity that would give a knockout blow to his opponents. Tiger’s imagination on the greens made him one of the greatest putters of all time under pressure.”
Woods shot 66 that day and then won the weather-delayed tournament on Monday. He had won the Arnold Palmer Invitational the week before, and then would win the Masters the following week, completing the Tiger Slam by winning four consecutive major championships.
Rob McNamara, TGR Ventures vice president who also serves as a frequent playing partner for Woods and provides a second set of eyes, was in the clubhouse watching on a small TV when Woods teed up his heroics on the 17th green.
“That was his first Players win and that meant a lot to him,” McNamara said. “After he won the (career) Grand Slam (in 2000), his record was pretty astonishing, but the focus then shifted to him having not won a Players.
“I remember the criticism that he hadn’t won a Players. People were trying to diminish what Tiger was doing. I think it was very telling that he silenced the critics when he won the Players. Which was a little bit ridiculous.”
Woods really didn’t talk about the Better Than Most putt.
“The only thing Tiger said about the putt was that he started fist-pumping it and started walking pretty early,” McNamara said. “And then it sort of barely jumped into the right side and when he watched the film he realized he started his walk too early. That putt could have missed. But when you’re young and confident that walk is early. But that’s the thing about Tiger. Sometimes he wills those putts in and that was definitely one of them.”
Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a former PGA Tour player who won the 1998 Great Vancouver Open, doesn’t remember where he was when he saw the putt but he hasn’t forgotten one thing that stood out to him.
“If you go back and watch the whole clip, Tiger circles the green and then when he gets over the putt, he does something I had never seen him do. He stood over the putt and made strokes with just his right hand,” Chamblee said. “It was a great example of someone being an artist. He walked around, looked at the putt, saw what the green was, and he stood over the putt and had put all that information into his computer and just tried to feel what the putt was going to do.
“And off it went. That putt just shows you the magic of the guy.”
Koch, a six-time winner on the PGA Tour and a mainstay on NBC telecasts since 1996, sat down with Woods on the 15th anniversary of the putt. One thing that came out of the conversation sort of startled Koch.
“I asked him, ‘I’m assuming you hit some practice putts from up there? I mean you were the only one that even came close to reading the break properly,’” Koch said. “And he goes, ‘Nope. Never hit a putt from up there. Never did.’”
Turns out he didn’t need to.