Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Tiger Woods still chasing Slammin' Sammy

A win during his first trip to West Virginia would move Woods closer to the record set by the Greenbrier’s legendary pro emeritus.

Greenbrier Classic schedule

7 a.m.: Gates open
7:10 a.m.: Pro-Am Morning Flight
12:30 p.m.: Pro-Am Afternoon Flight
7:30 p.m.: The Greenbrier’s Got Country Class concert at the fairgrounds
9 p.m.: Toby Keith concert with special guest Lionel Richie at the fairgrounds

7 a.m.: Gates open
First round

7 a.m.: Gates open
Second round
7:30 p.m.: Rod Stewart concert with special guests The Fray at the fairgrounds

8 a.m.: Gates open
Third round
8 p.m.: Bon Jovi concert at the fairgrounds

8 a.m.: Gates open
Final round
6 p.m.: Awards ceremony at the 18th green


WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Tiger Woods still has the scorecard from that day when he was 5 years old and played two holes with the great Sam Snead.

The meeting happened a few days before Snead was set to play a tournament in Los Angeles.

"He was doing that outing where he would play with a new group every two holes," Woods said. "I was this little snot-nosed kid at 5 years old that he had to play the last two holes with."

The first of those was a par 3. Little Tiger - precocious as he was - couldn't carry the ball much back then. He hit his drive into the water.

The Hall of Famer out of Hot Springs - enshrined in 1974, a year before Tiger was born - told Woods to pick up his ball.

Tiger refused.

"I was slightly competitive, even at that age," Woods said with a smile. "My dad always taught me to play it as it is. There's no such thing as winter rules."

So Woods played out the hole and made bogey. Then he made bogey on the final hole. Snead went par-par and signed Tiger's scorecard - a keepsake that Woods treasures, but one that also serves as a competitive reminder.

"I lost by two," Woods said.

Thirty-one years later, Tiger comes to Snead's backyard for the first time.

And he's still chasing "Slammin' Sammy."

As he prepares to tee it up Thursday in the first round of The Greenbrier Classic, Woods stands eight PGA Tour wins behind Snead for the all-time record. His win last weekend at Congressional gave him 74 victories, moving him past Jack Nicklaus for second place.

Woods' deep appreciation for history is surpassed only by his desire to make his own.

"Sam's record is just absolutely phenomenal, to do it for that long," Woods said. "His swing is one of the classic swings that we all try and replicate. We all looked at it, we all analyzed it, and we all tried to do it."

Woods is a 7-to-2 Vegas favorite to win this week in West Virginia - a state he's never been in before, much less played a tournament in. His only previous connections to this state were Snead, who was the pro emeritus of this course before his death in 2002, and his freshman roommate at Stanford, who hailed from these parts.

"I've been fortunate to have gone to a lot of states and a lot of different countries in my 17 years out here, and this is new," said Woods, who added that he would have played in this tournament last year had he not been injured. "Not too many times you get to say it's new in the United States, but it's new for me."

It's new for us, too. And the excitement is palpable. Hundreds gathered to get a look at Woods during his practice round Tuesday, which was suspended by rain after he hit his drive on No. 1.

Luring Woods was just the latest coup for resort owner Jim Justice, who has turned this tournament into a must-see event in just three years. Phil Mickelson's back for a second run at Old White. Vijay Singh's here. Tom Watson, Jim Furyk and Stuart Appleby are here.

And now Woods. Expect the grounds to be packed with fans following the 14-time major winner, who tees off on the back nine on Thursday with Webb Simpson and Steve Stricker. The debate over how much Woods has left in him has been quieted this year as he's won a tour-high three tournaments and moved atop of the money list for the season.

A victory this week - and the $1.09 million winner's share of the purse that comes with it - would push Tiger past $100 million in career earnings. It would also give him a victory in 17 different states.

Most important to Woods, though? It would get him closer to Sammy.

Woods knows he's got plenty of work to do. And he always has - ever since that day he lost by two.

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