HAVE YOU EVER seen a man have eight birdies and an eagle in one round of golf? I have, and it was incredible.
The BMW Championship, the penultimate event of the FedEx Cup, kicks off on Thursday in Cog Hill, Illinois. I attended the event in 2009 while on holiday in Chicago and was lucky enough to see one of the greatest rounds of golf ever played by the greatest player to ever play the game, Tiger Woods.
Golf is one of those sports that is extremely different on television than it is when you attend an event in person. On TV, obviously, you get to see everything. You see every worthwhile shot from every corner of the course by all the high-profile players and those in contention.
When you attend in person, you have two choices. Either you pick a spot, for argument’s sake the 18th green, and stay there for the day so you get to see everyone. Or you pick a couple of groups that you want to see and follow them for a few holes each.
Another massive difference is that on the television, the top guys can often make the game look pretty easy.
It’s only when you actually go to a golf tournament that you appreciate how well the professionals actually hit the ball, how accurate and rehearsed they are in almost every aspect of their game, and how the difficulty of the courses they play makes most average courses look like child’s play. It’s a completely different experience.
On the Saturday of the BMW Championship in 2009, the decision for me was easy. Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington were in the final two groups of the day, so it made absolute sense that I’d stay in and around those two groups and monitor their progress.
On the opening hole, Woods pulled his tee-shot into a fairway bunker and ended up making bogey. Far from an inspiring start.
Up ahead, Harrington started like a steam train with three birdies in a row on holes two, three and four. His birdie on the third was particularly memorable. He was lying in deep rough on the left of the green on a huge downslope, his chip smashed into the middle of the flag and the ball dropped into the cup.
I had been standing at the back of the third green, from where I could see a few different holes, and it was there that Woods made his first birdie of the day. He played the hole perfectly. In 12 years playing golf, I can’t remember seeing anyone play a golf hole perfectly, but that was it. A long drive in the fairway. A second shot that flew over the pin at the front of the green and spun back down a slight slope to rest about six feet away (the closest I’d seen anyone get on that hole), and a putt that went into the middle of the hole at pace.
It was a beautifully created birdie.
It was that hole, as opposed to the bogey on the first, that set the tone for Tiger’s round. A lot of what I saw from then on was nearing golfing perfection. I say nearing, because I don’t believe golfing perfection exists, but I do believe I witnessed something pretty close on that day.
Woods drove the ball as well as anyone could reasonably expect, but his iron-play and putting were beyond what I thought were realistically possible from a human being. No matter how far away he was, he was hitting his second shot close.
When you play golf, the flagstick is obviously your target, but this was the first time I ever saw someone hit so may shots that actually attacked the target. He was so accurate, if I’d been out there with a cannon and a GPS I don’t think I’d have come as close.
The putting was also insane. To make eight birdies and an eagle, it means you have to have nine one-putts. What allowed him to do that was the fact that he was hitting it so close in the first place, but you still have to put the ball in the hole.
As with any golfer, there was a hiccup or two along the way, but nothing dramatic. After all, as easy as it would be to believe otherwise, certainly at that time, he is human.
Harrington, after his early birdie rush, made a few bogeys and finished his day on two under. But this day was all about Tiger.
By the time Woods reached the 18th green, people were only beginning to make sense of what they’d seen over the previous 17 holes. He was given a standing ovation as he walked onto the final green and I really got a sense that I had seen one of greatest sportsmen in the history of this planet perform to the best of his ability. It was a privilege, and only be being there in person was able I able to fully appreciate the genius I was seeing.