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Extra holes with Tiger Woods? Here’s what battling golf’s fiercest competitor feels like

Few U.S. Amateur finals were more dramatic than the 1996 edition at Pumpkin Ridge, where two-time defending champion Tiger Woods clashed with 20-year-old underdog Steve Scott. Through 18 holes in the 36-hole finale, Scott looked like anything but a long shot, seizing a 5-up lead through 18 with his then-girlfriend (and now-wife) Kristi Hommel on the bag. But Woods isn’t one to go quietly, and that afternoon in Portland, Ore., was no exception. By the 35th hole, Woods had stormed all the way back to even, and a hole later Scott faced a nervy 5-footer to push the match to overtime. He drained it. Here, from Scott’s new book, Hey, Tiger — You Need to Move Your Mark Back, is how the extra holes unfolded. Needless to say, the bonus session did not lack for Woods’s trademark competitiveness.

***

After 36 holes, we are going back to number 9, the most difficult hole on the golf course for a right-to-left shot shape like mine.

God has a great sense of humor. He knows I can’t hit a fade to save my ass.

No. 9 at Pumpkin Ridge, of all places — the worst hole for me and the best hole for Tiger. He has a huge advantage over me. Center-line bunkers that I can’t carry, but he can. Tiger will have wedge into the green if he carries those bunkers. Damn the luck.

The rules official comes over and says we can have a bathroom break. We haven’t had one the whole second 18, now that I think about it. So why would I want to take a whiz now? We are drinking a lot of water, but don’t have a lot to show for it because it’s so, so hot — a dry heat. Even though it’s Oregon, the air is cool and crisp in spite of the temperature.

After the bathroom break, I go back to 9 because it’s the first hole they have a TV tower on, I guess. I hop in a cart with Kristi and our driver, about a 500-yard ride or so to the 9th tee box.

Few observers thought Scott had a chance against Woods.

getty images

The 9th is a par-4, the 10th a par-3, the 11th a par-5. That would allow tournament officials to mix up the different pars for our playoff. Maybe that’s why they did it. I couldn’t figure it out, as at the U.S. Amateur, where Jeff Quinney won at Baltusrol [in 2000], they go back to the first tee for the playoff.

Tiger slow-plays us, no question about it; he stays in the bathroom a long, long time. Looking back, I know exactly why. Tiger wants me to get out there first — to think about it.

Think about what the hell just happened to me.

Felt like I waited there for an eternity, and Tiger has the honors. He’s hitting first. I have to wait, and I am so ready to go.

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Hey, Tiger―You Need to Move Your Mark Back: 9 Simple Words that Changed the Game of Golf Forever

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Experience the thrill, 25 years later, of Steve Scott’s epic finals match against Tiger Woods in the 1996 United States Amateur Championship.
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The cameras are on me as we are waiting on Tiger. Kristi is giving me a back rub, telling me I can do this. I got this. She’s so great, my Kristi.

Tiger finally shows up, rolls up to the tee like a red Corvette, and without so much as a hello absolutely crushes his drive. Absolutely smokes it. Hundred and thirty yards to the pin. I take out my 2-iron — I have to lay it up — it’s a split fairway, maybe only 15 yards wide, but if you miss it left you can’t get to the green, and there are these huge evergreen trees. Like a tunnel, like I said. But you have got to be in the fairway.

It’s 260 to the bunker and 300 to carry it. A reach I can’t cover. A bunker Tiger flew like a Blue Angel.

I hit my trap draw 2-iron that flies 215, and it runs out to maybe 240. The bentgrass fairways at Pumpkin Ridge are firm. Hard as pool tables. Perfect USGA setup. The grounds crew, the superintendent, did a phenomenal job. The golf course was as immaculate as any golf course I have ever seen, Augusta National included.

Tiger slow-plays us; he stays in the bathroom a long, long time. Looking back, I know exactly why. Tiger wants me to get out there first — to think about it.

I spot Tiger 80 yards off the tee.

I have 207 to the hole, and I decide to take 5-iron, after talking with Kristi. It doesn’t feel all that great coming off the club, truth be told, but somehow it feathers its way up to about 15 feet from the hole. Pin high. Pressure back on Tiger.

Tiger hits a wedge in, pulls it just a little bit — just a touch outside of my 5-iron.

This validates that you have got to play your own game, how it fits you and see how it works out in the end.

Tiger has about 20 feet, I’ve got maybe 15. Five-iron versus wedge.

These are pretty straight putts, just a touch downhill, a little outside left, pretty flat. We are both equally licking our chops.

Tiger misses, it just doesn’t quite break the way he thinks it’s going to break, and it finishes just left and past the hole. I concede it.

Here’s the moment.

After the whole entire day, 10-and-a-half hours of golf that started at sunrise and is about to end at sunset, and all the time I was 5-up in that morning match, and yet this is the first time, the only putt I’ve had to win the tournament.

Woods and Scott in the wake of their epic match.

NBC Sports

I miss it.

Maybe I tried too hard. I don’t know.

I miss it short and a little to the right. A weak effort — I decelerated on it. Had I had one other putt to win before that, I think I would have been a little more prepared for that moment.

Tiger concedes my miss, which I appreciate.

We go to the 38th hole. The 10th, a par-3 I had won twice that day — even though it was a righthand pin, and me with my sweeping draw. There was something about that hole I just liked.

Tiger hits a 6-iron and I hit 5. It is the first swing of his I watch all day.

I’ll back up a second.

Tiger hits the ball so mightily high. His apex is like nothing you’ve ever seen — his ball could have flown the tallest tree imaginable — a high, glorious fade that comes down maybe seven feet behind the hole. Drops down like a butterfly with sore feet that just got burnt on the grill.

Tiger gives it his famous fist-pump from the tee box.

I have never seen that before. Or since.

Who fist-pumps on the tee box?

I get up there and hit 5-iron, a great number for me, but I push it ever so slightly. I’m actually closer to the hole than I was when I hit the flop shot into the cup for a 2 during the second 18. This is a bit of a difficult chip, though, the way the ball is sitting down in the rough, on the downslope, with the green running away — I can see the quarter top of it.

Tiger gives it his famous fist-pump from the tee box. I have never seen that before. Or since. Who fist-pumps on the tee box?

I hit what I think is a great pitch — the ball lands just over the rough, onto the cut of the fringe, spinning just so, and rolls down to about seven feet. Just about the same distance of Tiger. It’s so close we have to call over the head rules official, Trey Holland, to tell us who is away. It’s that big a moment. If I get up there and hole the putt first, I put the pressure back on Tiger, like the heaviest of blankets, forcing him to make. If I miss, Tiger has two putts from seven feet to win the U.S. Amateur.

At first, Trey eyeballs it and says, “Steve, you are away.” Tiger asks him, “Are you sure? I think I am.”

How does he possibly know?

Tiger asks for the measuring tape. They measure.

Tiger is away by maybe a quarter of an inch. It’s a crazy-fast putt he’s facing, so I know he’ll have to be defensive.

He doesn’t hit a great putt — he overreads the break, and it rolls by about a foot or so.

So now the stage is back on me.

I have the same pressure putt I had on the 36th hole. However, this one has a little left-to-right break on it. Not the ideal putt for me — would have loved to have it a touch straighter, or even right-to-left. I love straight putts.

I decelerate again, just a fraction, and I lip it out on the low side; it could’ve gone in just as easily as it stayed out. One of those slow, tantalizing lip-outs that just melts your heart. It melted mine like the Wicked Witch.

That close! Scott’s lip-out on the 38th hole.

NBC Sports

Maybe today really was like Wizard of Oz. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.

I don’t concede Tiger’s putt; I make him make it. And he does, dead center. Ball game.

It takes Tiger a good five minutes to come over and shake my hand as I’m standing there, even with my hand extended as soon as he taps in, my hat off, at this point.

I put my hand back in my pocket, as the next scene unfolds.

I don’t think the Tiger of today would have left me hanging like that. He would have shaken my hand right away. Cap off, acknowledgment.

Great match, Steve.

I’m quite pleased with myself, odd as that may sound at a moment as broken as this. I could have folded, but I didn’t.

Excerpted from Hey, Tiger — You Need to Move Your Mark Back: 9 Simple Words that Changed the Game of Golf Forever, by Steve Scott and Tripp Bowden, published by Skyhorse Publishing © 2021.

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