Tiger Woods recoiled with a big smile.
“Oh Lord. It’s going to be one of those days,” Woods said after Notah Begay III, his roommate in college at Stanford, promised some trash-talking as they prepared to play.
It was one of those days, all right. Paired with LPGA Tour star Suzann Pettersen in a best-ball format in the Notah Begay Challenge, Woods watched his partner carry much of the load on a warm, late-summer day in upstate New York. The duo finished third at 9-under 63, two shots behind Hunter Mahan and Cristie Kerr, who won the charity event at Turning Stone Resort’s Atunyote Golf Club layout for the second straight year.
“She played great,” Woods said about Pettersen. “She definitely carried me.”
Annika Sorenstam and Rickie Fowler finished second, one shot behind the winners, and Begay and Natalie Gulbis were last at 7 under.
Woods, who has played only eight PGA Tour events this year because of injuries to his left knee and left Achilles’ tendon, started the day with a perfect drive that set up a nice birdie at the par-4 opening hole, smiling broadly as fans shouted his name.
The shouts of encouragement never waned as Woods made his way around the course, but his game surely didn’t approach the performance he put on here two years ago. With more than 3,000 awestruck fans watching his every move, Woods hit nearly every fairway and won three of the final four holes in a skins game format to beat Camilo Villegas in 2009.
On this day, Woods was relegated to watching his teammate make the clutch shots.
Woods hit his drive at the second hole into the left rough, then muffed his second shot at the par-3 third hole, muttering an expletive and then laughing along with the gallery.
Woods had to take a drop on the par-4 fourth hole after he drove into the weeds to the left, then hit his second shot over the green into the gallery.
At the par-5 fifth hole, a dogleg left, Woods hit a spectator in the ankle, then hung his head at No. 7 after his second shot at the par-4 landed on the green but way left of the pin. Pettersen rescued him with a birdie as they moved within one shot of the leaders.
At the eighth hole, Woods found a greenside bunker and blasted out to 6 feet and made birdie, but when he reached the fringe at No. 11, he was content to just plop down on his golf bag and watch Pettersen sink a birdie putt from inside 3 feet.
On the next hole, Woods whispered “great putt” as Pettersen sank another birdie to keep them in contention, and at the 13th his short putt for birdie lipped out.
Woods was watching again on the next hole after his tee shot landed on top of the elevated green and then spun back into the waterfall that lines the left side of the green. There were more cheers when he hit his second shot to 8 feet at the par-4 15th hole, but he again missed the birdie putt.
Woods seemed to walk a little gingerly after hitting out of a sand trap at the 17th hole and into the right rough, then picked up his ball again and headed to the 18th tee.
“It was an uneven lie, and that’s what happens,” Begay said. “It takes a while to work through those things. I’ve been there. You get scared of a certain shot and you don’t want to push off or turn in to something because it hurt in the past. I talked about it with him and just told him to stay patient with it. Those are things that come with recovery.”
The par-5 final hole provided a fitting end to the round. Woods drove about 65 yards to the left of the fairway out of bounds and onto a hill far above the cart path, then hit his third shot to 8 feet and made birdie as the gallery roared its approval.
“It was all right today,” Woods said. “I’ve been hurt the majority of the year and haven’t quite gotten to be able to (get) the reps that I need to do what (swing coach) Sean (Foley) wants me to do. We were right on track at Augusta, but unfortunately I got hurt there and then it was a huge setback. We’re just trying to get back to where I was at Augusta, and it’s coming around. I just need more reps.”
Begay said he liked much of what he saw in Woods’ performance.
“I saw enough good things to know that he’s making some progress,” Begay said. “It was nice to be out there with him.”
Begay received a check for $500,000 for his foundation and said he hoped to be able to surpass $1 million after an auction.
The event is the chief fundraiser for Begay’s foundation, which is dedicated to helping fight obesity and diabetes in the Native American community.
It’s a cause close to Woods’ heart.
“I can relate to this because my father went through it,” Woods said. “My father developed type-2 diabetes. It’s tough to watch someone go through that, and what Notah’s trying to do is cut that off. I want to be here for that. To be here and have the opportunity to do this, it’s an honor.”