The best Tiger Woods shot you’ve never heard about? Notah Begay has a candidate
Notah Begay is accustomed to being asked about Tiger Woods, his longtime friend and Stanford teammate.
At this week’s PGA Tour Champions event, in Naples, Fla., Begay was back at it, dutifully playing the role of Tiger whisperer. Sure, when he met with the assembled media at Tiburon Golf Club, Begay fielded plenty of queries about his own game — he’s been sharpening his skills at mini-tour events in Mexico, his primary goal for the Champions season is to maintain his playing status, he’ll continue to squeeze in as much TV work as his schedule allows — but inevitably the Tiger questions came. They almost always do.
In you case you missed it, Begay’s old pal is back in action on the PGA Tour this week, at the Genesis Invitational, marking Woods’ first official Tour start (non-major division!) since the fall of 2020. It’s a loaded field at Riviera, but when Woods’ week kicks off in earnest at 12:04 p.m. local time Thursday (with some guys named Rory and Justin tagging along for the ride), virtually all eyes will fall on the hobbled 15-time major winner.
How’s his swing? His stroke? His gait? His mood? His shoes? His teeth? Can he compete? Like, compete compete?
By Woods’ own admission, his pinned-together right ankle is still a significant problem area for him, but he also asserted Tuesday: “I would not have put myself out here if I didn’t think I could beat these guys and win the event. That’s my mentality. If I wasn’t ready to win at this level — I am very rusty, but I’ve come off a rusty situation before and I’ve done well, and I’ve had to utilize a lot of those tactics in practice in buildup.”
Woods is tough to read. That’s by design, of course. The best card players never tip their hands. Begay, on the other hand, tends to be more forthcoming about his pal’s progress. His expectations for Woods at Riv?
“I think a successful week for him [would] to be to complete 36 holes somewhat comfortably on that leg,” Begay said Wednesday. “If he’s able to make that cut, I think that’s a huge bonus, but just to sort of see where the stability is at.”
Begay said the last time he and Woods spent quality time together was at Begay’s own event — the Notah Begay III Junior Golf National Championship — in Orlando late last year, where Tiger’s son Charlie was in the field. “He wasn’t playing but was watching his son, so we had a lot of chance to just talk about some of the physical challenges, what his strategies were to address some deficiencies in stability, movement and strength, and we’re three months removed from that, so he’s had 60 to 90 days to implement that strategy,” Begay said. “He looked good moving yesterday, and now it’s just a matter of how much endurance does he have in the leg to sort of sustain 72 holes plus a pro-am?”
That’s the million-dollar question, or if you want to be really optimistic, the $3.6 million dollar question (that’s the whopping winner’s share at this, the third designated event of the calendar year). The odds are not in Woods’ favor. He’s out of form. He has a poor (by his standards) track record at Riviera. Heck, given the state of Woods lower body, simply having to navigate the steep descent from the first tee to the fairway by itself feels like cause for concern. But Begay also knows something else about his friend: he’s a miracle worker.
“I know that at any given moment, something special could just break open,” he said. “I’ve seen it so many times. Some of the best shots that I’ve seen from Tiger Woods was in rounds that it was just him and I out there, and I looked at it and how he did it, and I’m like, nobody else could do those sorts of things.”
A reporter asked Begay if he could recall one of those shots. Begay, praise be, could.
“We were playing at the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes and he had a half buried lie in a fairway bunker that I thought he was only going to be able to advance about 200 yards. He took a 2-iron out, and it was like the hand of God smacked the back of this ball because he flew it on the front edge about 236. I went over and I looked at the divot, and I just was like, nobody else could have done that with the skill and the power and the accuracy. I think he went up and made the putt, which made me even more mad because I lost the hole.”
Alas, another inimitable Tiger moment. Maybe he has one more in store for us this week.