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One Blown Tournament Won’t Hurt Long

Mark Whicker Orange County Regis

He only has about 30 years to get over this, to forget that epic skyhook that he put into a pond of green ooze, to block out that new unsinkable ball that he putted four times on the seventh green alone.

Actually it did not take 30 minutes.

“The way I look at it,” Tiger Woods said after donating the Quad Cities Classic to Ed Fiori on Sunday, “is that I broke in in Milwaukee and did OK. I did better in Canada, finished 11th. Today, I not only broke the Top 10 barrier but the Top 5 too. So that’s progress.”

“This could be a blessing in disguise,” said Woods’ swing coach, Butch Harmon. “Maybe he’ll learn more from this than if he’d come out here and won.”

All true. No question that Tiger will live wealthily ever after, and that he and Phil Knight will someday chuckle over the memory of this little calamity in the shadow of the John Deere tractor plant.

“But if he doesn’t hit that bad shot,” Fiori said, “he’s off to the races.”

Right. The world said “Hello, Tiger” here Sunday - the new world, a world populated by the 99.9th percentile of golfers alive.

When Tiger suffered a brain cramp during events like the U.S. Amateur, he could survive. He was playing college kids, most of whom will never play professional golf, or 48-year-old car salesmen.

On Sunday, Fiori kept bunting his drives and shaping his irons, and every putt he tried had perfect speed. He shot a straight-arrow 67 while Woods was shooting a roller-coaster 72, and he left a thought for the day: Everybody in the Quad Cities Classic could have won the U.S. Amateur, too.

“Was that a gritty performance?” someone asked Fiori.

“Hey, I’m 5-foot-7 and I weigh 220,” Fiori replied. “I’ve gotta be mean just to survive out here. Sometimes the rat snake gets the cobra.”

Any natural orneriness was fueled by two days with Tiger, and a raucous crowd that kept stampeding to the next tee before Fiori finished putting.

“I think it helped my intensity,” Fiori said. “I play better in front of crowds anyway. And I never looked at Tiger swinging the club. I didn’t want to get caught up in the clubhead speed and all that.

“But I did watch where the ball went. It’s amazing, how he can hit it. I fully expected him to win. He’s hitting wedge into every green.”

Tiger expected to win, too. But nobody ever wins when the putts don’t fall, and Woods missed makeable birdies on No. 1 and No. 3.

“He’s been struggling with his putting,” Harmon said. “He’s been closing the blade on his backswing and pulling everything. It’s a tough thing to correct. But everybody goes through it.”

But not many 20-year-olds go through it.

“You gotta have some feel to putt these greens,” Fiori said. “It suits me because I can just let the ball die at the hole. Tiger was out there banging the ball and it didn’t work.”

But the goal was not to win a tournament in the shank of the 1996 season. The goal was to make the Top 125 and get full 1997 playing privileges without having to attend the Qualifying School or rely on sponsors’ exemptions. Woods is 166th with $82,194. The 125th man is Ted Tryba, with $142,445. Woods could use a couple more Top 10s.

So Tiger Woods has arrived. He has blown a golf tournament.

They all do.

“He will be a great champion,” Butch Harmon said with a wink. “And he’s got 30 years to get eligible for the Senior Tour.”

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Mark Whicker Orange County Register

Wordcount: 622
Tags: column, golf

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