INSIDE THE ROPES By TOM LaMARRE
The Sports Xchange
Inside the ropes – It’s been well-chronicled through much of his career that Tiger Woods is chasing Jack Nicklaus, or more specifically the Golden Bear’s record of 18 major championships. Much closer on Woods’ radar is Sam Snead’s mark of 82 PGA Tour victories, as he is second on the list with 76 after winning the WGC-Cadillac Championship for the seventh time, on six different courses, two weeks ago. And Tiger can tie one of Slammin’ Sam’s records this week if he can successfully defend his title and capture the Arnold Palmer Invitational for the eighth time. Snead won the Greater Greensboro Open eight times between 1938 and 1965, four times at Sedgefield Country Club and four times at Starmount Forest Country Club. Even though his eye has been on Nicklaus since he posted his idol’s record on his bedroom wall as a kid, Woods is something of a golf historian and is in awe of what was accomplished by Snead, who actually claimed 165 titles overall in his career.
“I think that Sam’s record’s just absolutely phenomenal, to do it for that long, to win a PGA Tour event in his 50s,” said Woods, who can reclaim the No. 1 spot in the World Golf Rankings from Rory McIlroy by winning at Bay Hill. “He didn’t exactly have easy guys to play against, (Ben) Hogan and (Byron) Nelson. Those guys aren’t chops, so to be able to do it that long for that many generations, five decades of doing it, it’s pretty phenomenal. His swing is one of the classic swings that we all try to replicate, we all looked at it, we all analyzed it and we all tried to do it. ” … I was aware of it, but at the time, everyone focused on Jack’s record. But as I delved more into the game and was probably in high school, I started understanding Sam’s contributions to the game of golf and his consistency. The fact that he won at age 52, when he won Greensboro, and to do it for that long is amazing. Truly amazing.” While they are from two different golf generations, Snead and Woods actually played against each other. Of course Tiger, a child prodigy who made his television debut before the age of 3 on the Mike Douglas Show, was still a tyke when he teed it up against Snead. “I met Sam when I was five,” Woods recalled. “He was playing at Calabasas out in L.A., doing that outing where he would play with a new group every two holes. So he had nine groups, and I was this little snot-nosed kid at five-years-old that he had to play the last two holes with.
“I remember it was a par 3. You know, I’m 5, I can’t carry it very far. I hit it into the water and he tells me to go pick it up out of the water. When my dad was alive, he would tell me that I was slightly competitive even at that age and I didn’t like him telling me to pick the ball up, because my dad always taught me you play it as it is, there’s no such thing as winter rules. “So I went in and played it and I made bogey on that hole, the par 3, and I made bogey on the last hole. I still have the card at home. He signed it. He went par-par and I lost by two.” When Woods captured the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines earlier this year, he set a PGA Tour record by winning on the same course for the eighth time, seven in the regular tour event and the 2008 U.S. Open. (He’s also won seven times at Firestone and Doral). He can tie that record of eight this week at Bay Hill and someone has already predicted that he will. “Heck, he’ll probably win it again,” event host Arnold Palmer said in a tournament news release announcing that Woods would be back to defend his title. “Obviously, he likes the golf course.”
Woods, who only had to drive virtually around the corner from his home in Isleworth to Bay Hill for the tournament before moving to Jupiter Island, Fla., in 2011, has played in Arnie’s tournament 16 times since 1994. Tiger won it four consecutive times from 2000-2003, and also took home the title in 2008, 2009 and last year, when he claimed his first victory on the PGA Tour since his 2009 marital infidelity scandal, after a span of 923 days and 27 tournaments. “The golf is right in front of you,” Woods said of the Bay Hill course. “You have to think your way around the course and be able to hit a variety of shots. You know what shots are required, and then you have to execute. Changes have been made over the years, but it’s still a good, classic layout. ” … Obviously, I have the utmost respect for Arnold. He’s done so much for the game of golf and us as players. I always enjoy coming back to his tournament and hope I can give myself a chance to win on Sunday.” t’s Arnie’s place, but Tiger virtually owns the golf course.