SCOTTSDALE, Arizona (Reuters) - Tiger Woods has not competed at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in 14 years but he is remembered most by the raucous crowds that gather here at the TPC Scottsdale for his electrifying debut four years earlier.
In January 1997, Woods was just three months from clinching his first major title in record-breaking style at the Masters and he gave the fans at Scottsdale a hint of the magic to come with a stunning ace in the Phoenix Open third round.
Ten strokes off the lead after 36 holes, Woods arrived at the infamous par-three 16th and watched as his playing partner, fellow American Omar Uresti, hit his tee shot from 152 yards to just three feet behind the cup.
Unflinching, Woods responded in sensational fashion with a nine-iron, his ball landing on the green and bouncing twice before disappearing into the hole to trigger a deafening crescendo of noise from the massive galleries.
Woods celebrated the feat with several whipping round-house punches and the crowd responded by showering the 16th tee with cups and beer cans.
“Just smelling and hearing the beer hit behind me on the tee box ... to turn around and see all this beer flying was crazy,” Woods told reporters at the TPC Scottsdale on Tuesday after playing nine holes in practice.
”The more eerie part was when we were playing 17 and 18, everybody (the fans) didn’t really care. They were walking in, because they had seen what they wanted to see and 16 was empty.
“So we looked back on 16. You see all these beer cups everywhere on the tee box.”
Woods did not re-visit the 16th hole on Tuesday as he played only the front nine on Scottsdale’s Stadium Course.
“I‘m going to see it tomorrow,” said the former world number one, who this week is making his first PGA Tour start in five months due to ongoing back issues.
”It’s been different over the years. Back in ‘97, they didn’t have the bleachers like they do now around the tee box. It was a hill and people were partying.
“I don’t know if they still serve the alcohol like they used to ... the guys who were playing behind me (in 1997), they had some pretty wet lies,” he smiled.
Woods, limited to just nine tournaments worldwide last year because of back problems, tied for fifth here in 2001 in his most recent Phoenix Open start.
Editing by Steve Keating