SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 26: Tiger Woods tees off during the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines South on January 26, 2020 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
By Daniel Rapaport
On a day overshadowed by tragedy, Tiger Woods shot a two-under 70 to finish tied for ninth in the Farmers Insurance Open, six strokes behind champion Marc Leishman.
Moments after birdieing the par-5 18th at Torrey Pines, Woods first learned of the passing of basketball legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter, 13-year-old Gianna, who were among as many as nine killed in a helicopter crash in California.
“It’s unbelievable the reality that he’s no longer here,” Woods said of Bryant. The two had known each other for more than 20 years. “LeBron [James] breaks his [scoring] record, and he passes today.
“I just can’t imagine what their entire family’s going through right now,” Woods added. “It’s just shocking.”
News of Bryant’s death made its way around Torrey Pines when Woods was playing the seventh hole. He was one under for the round at that point, the product of an eventful opening stretch.
After he stumbled to convert an up-and-down on the first hole, walking away with a disappointing bogey, Woods came as close as possible to holing his second shot on the par-4 second. In fact, he did hole it—only to have the ball bounce off the bottom of the cup and somehow pop back out of the hole, leaving a tap-in birdie to get back to level for the day.
Despite fighting his swing a bit—Woods had trouble turning his iron shots right-to-left—he managed to make a few key pars to keep the round from sputtering. However, Woods failed to hole the mid-range putts needed to close what had been a five-stroke deficit to start Sunday. Take the par-5 sixth, for example: After a laser 3-iron hopped onto the green to set up a 14-foot eagle putt, Woods had a chance to get within two of the lead and put a charge into tournament. But the putt slid by on the low side, and Woods had to settle for his second disappointing birdie in five holes.
A three-putt bogey at the par-4 10th all but ended Woods’ chances to win his record 83rd PGA Tour title and a ninth professional tournament at Torrey—seven Farmers and the iconic 2008 U.S. Open (not to mention the Junior World title here won here)—but his card was clean the rest of the way. Woods birdied both par 5s on the back, including a delicate downhill five-footer at the last, to shoot four straight sub-par rounds to begin 2020.
Woods now has three straight top-10 finishes in PGA Tour events heading into his next start, the Genesis Invitational at Riviera in February, where he will do double duty as player and host.
After walking off the 18th green, it was caddie Joe LaCava who informed Woods of Bryant’s death. Woods was visibly shaken and spoke only of his fallen friend, not about golf at all, after the round.
“We really connected on more the mental side of it, the prep, how much it takes to be prepared,” Woods said. “That’s where he and I really connected, because we’re very similar. We both came in the league—well, he came in the league and I turned pro right around the same time and we had our 20-year run together. It’s shocking.
“Life is very fragile, as we all know. You can be gone at any given time and we have to appreciate the moments we have.”