With Comeback, Tiger Puts U.S. Title in Tank : Golf: Woods, 18, makes up six-hole deficit and becomes youngest ever to win national amateur championship.
In 94 years of the U.S. Amateur Golf Championship, no player had done what Tiger Woods did Sunday.
Woods, 18, became the youngest winner in the history of the tournament, and the Southern Californian also showed the touch and poise that may make him the biggest name in golf.
Not even Jack Nicklaus was able to win this event at 18. The Golden Bear had to wait until he was 19.
Woods, from Cypress, won the last three holes of his 36-hole title match against Trip Kuehne. He surged from six down to produce what is believed to be the biggest comeback victory in the event.
“Tiger showed what a great player he was to keep hitting it on the greens from the woods and keep the pressure on,” Kuehne said. “The kid showed he’s got a lot of golf game to be able to cash in those opportunities.”
Woods, a three-time junior champion, registered a two-up victory on the Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass’ Stadium Course. He trailed Kuehne, an Oklahoma State junior, by six holes after the first 13 holes, but drew to just four down after the morning round. In the afternoon, he rallied to win six of the last 10 holes and won the Havemeyer Trophy.
Woods took the lead for the first time by chipping in for birdie-two from 12 feet on the treacherous 132-yard No. 17, after going left and just missing the water surrounding the island green on his tee shot.
He sealed his victory on No. 18. Kuehne, needing a long putt for a birdie, sent the ball six feet past the cup, and he missed coming back. Woods picked up his ball for a par.
Woods said his putting is what turned things around.
“I knew if I just hung in there, sooner of later those putts were going to go in,” said Woods, who will enter Stanford this fall. “And they did. Coming back from six down means the most.”
In becoming the youngest U.S. amateur winner, Woods usurped a quintet of 19-year-olds led by Nicklaus.
Woods earned invitations to next year’s U.S. Open, Masters and British Open. The U.S. Amateur is one of 13 national championship conducted annually by the U.S. Golf Assn.
Woods finished at seven-under par for the day, while Kuehne was five-under, including a six-under 66 in the morning.
“I gave it my best,” said Kuehne, 22, of McKinney, Tex. “I made all of my birdies in the first 13 holes and only one in the last 23 holes while Tiger made his birdies late in the day.”
Woods climaxed a summer in which he won three other prestigious amateur events, including the Western Amateur. Not bad for a player who had never advanced past the second round in his last two U.S. Amateurs.
“It’s an amazing feeling to come from six down, to play that kind of golf in the stretch,” said Woods, best known for his three consecutive junior titles (1991-93) before his sizzling summer. “I was able to scramble and hit good shots and keep the pressure on him.”
Kuehne stood amazed at Woods’ shot on No. 17, a shot that stopped two feet from falling over designer Pete Dye’s infamous railroad ties and into the water.
“It was a great gamble that paid off,” said Kuehne, playing in his first U.S. Amateur. “You don’t see too many pros doing what he did.”
What Woods did on this sun-drenched day was provide the dramatics sorely lacking, with the eventual champ trailing, five-down, on the front nine of the afternoon 18.
To win, Woods came out of the woods time after time.
After Kuehne lost holes nine through 11 in the afternoon round to watch his four-up advantage dwindle to one-up, Woods starting missing fairways.
Until his two-iron drive at the day’s closing hole, he hadn’t hit a fairway since the 529-yard 11th, which yielded the first of his three birdies on the final nine.
On the 438-yard 14th, he pushed his drive wide right, leaving the unenviable task of punching a 122-yard six-iron left to right onto an undulating green.
Having accomplished that trouble shot, he found himself in the rough left at the 426-yard 15th. No problem. Take an eight-iron, pop it 100 yards down the fairway and watch it roll onto the putting surface for a two-putt par.
Going into the 497-yard 16th, Woods still trailed one-down but took advantage of his trusty short game to give him the birdie that finally squared the match.
And then came the 17th.
“I don’t remember hitting the putt,” said Woods, amid a crowd of autograph seekers. “All I know is that you know you have to do it and you do it. There’s no better feeling.”