'All hell broke loose'
The final hole of Tiger Woods’ 2018 TOUR Championship win was one of the zaniest in recent memory
August 20, 2019
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
Tiger Woods remembers the crowd noise.
It wasn’t the roar elicited by a clutch birdie or eagle putt; he knows that noise all too well. No, this was something else, and it was hard to place.
“All of a sudden it gets really loud behind us,” Woods says of the 72nd hole of last year’s TOUR Championship at East Lake, where he was about to win for the 80th time to break a five-year victory drought. “And I look back and there are people coming under the ropes and the cops are trying to organize people so they don’t rush us.”
Roger Maltbie, NBC’s on-course reporter who always follows the final pairing, was up ahead, on the lower of the hole’s two levels. That’s where the longer hitters’ drives end up, and when he looked back up the hill at Woods and Rory McIlroy, people were already in the fairway behind them.
“I happen to be standing next to a police officer,” Maltbie says. “And he says, ‘Oh, man, what are we gonna do now?’ I gave him the quote that Dave Marr used to say years ago, which was, ‘Once a dog gets out from under the porch, it’s real hard to get him to go back under there.’”
The moment was one part history in the making, Woods getting his long-awaited 80th, and one part Pamplona. Call it the Running of the Fans. Or, as Woods would later put it, “All hell broke loose.”
Here’s an eyewitness account from those who experienced the delirium at the ground level.
Woods took a three-stroke lead over McIlroy and Justin Rose into Sunday. Needing to make something happen, McIlroy (74, T7) and Rose (73, T4) struggled. Still, a Tiger win was not a foregone conclusion. Billy Horschel had shot 66 to get to 9 under, and Woods bogeyed 15 after his tee shot cleared the water by inches, and 16, too. His lead was cut to just two strokes, and he looked shaky on 17, too, but made a par-saving putt from just inside 4 feet.
McILROY: “I told him he was doing his best not to win, but when he hit his tee shot up 18, and he striped it, I said, ‘OK, the tournament is pretty much done at this point.’ It was cool, we were walking down and I said, ‘Geez, that’s the first one you didn’t squeeze out there today. You turned it over.’ (Laughs) I was like, ‘Oh, you finally hit one! Good for you!’ And we’re walking down and the Tiger chant started, right? They hadn’t broken the ropes at this point. But I said to him, ‘This reminds me of Jack in 1980 at Baltusrol.’ Like, ‘Jack is back, Jack is back.’ And he said something like, ‘Yeah, but I’m not wearing yellow pants,’ or something like that.”
JOE LaCAVA, Woods’ caddie: “Once he piped a drive on 18, I kind of knew he had it, which was kind of a nice feeling as we’re coming down the hill there.”
RICKIE FOWLER: “We were up in family dining, and after Tiger was making his way toward the green, that’s when we were walking down to scoring. J.T. (Justin Thomas) was with us, and Zach (Johnson), I think.”
Rose birdied 18 to win the FedExCup. Woods needed only to bogey 18 to win his 80th TOUR trophy, which became a no-brainer as his second shot reached the greenside bunker. That’s when the drip, drip, drip of fans coming under the ropes became a tidal wave.
Tiger Woods: Witness to History
WOODS: “It gives me chills almost every single time I see it. At the time, it didn’t seem like that because I didn’t really look back. I only looked back a couple of times over my right shoulder.”
LaCAVA: “Probably 50 yards after he hit his second shot I could sense the people coming into the fairway behind me. I looked at one of the cops, and he said, ‘What do you think?’ He was just looking more for approval of what Tiger might think about it. These people are so jacked up; they want to be part of history. I said, ‘Let ’em go. Why not?’ Not that it was my call. I thought it would be like charging the field after a big college football or basketball win. But I didn’t realize how many people were already out there on the fairway.”
FOWLER: “As soon as we got down to scoring that’s when we saw the crowd coming in.”
MALTBIE: “After the second shots were played, the people on top of the hill started to follow behind Tiger, and when the fans down by the green saw that, they said, ‘The heck with this, I’m going under the ropes, too.’”
DANIEL LATERZA, Assistant G.M. East Lake: “I was outside the door to the locker room and all the sudden the players started coming out – Tommy Fleetwood, Paul Casey. They had their phones up as well, taking pictures like everyone else. They’d never seen anything like it. As soon as everybody was rushing up the fairway, we were all, ‘OK, what are they going to do to stop it?’”
It soon became apparent that there was no stopping it, just as there is no unscrambling an omelet and no stuffing the genie back in the bottle. Although it was a happy throng, everyone thrilled to see Woods about the enter the winner’s circle again, it was also a very large throng.
WOODS: “After the second shots that we hit down there, there’s a natural bottleneck at the lake there, and once we hit that part, everyone just busted loose behind us and all hell broke loose.”
ALLISON FILLMORE, TOUR Championship Executive Director: “I was standing there with our social media person and I saw this massive crowd coming toward me; all of a sudden I started to get really nervous. I’m not in control of the situation. I was completely losing my mind.”
JACK LABADIA, student and standard-bearer: “The police were holding people back; I got pushed back five or six times by the same police officer, and then he saw that I was holding the sign and let me through. He was just trying his best to protect Tiger.”
CAMERON McLEOD, second standard-bearer: “You could just hear everybody running. It was crazy. They were like 10 yards behind me, and the police started escorting everyone up to the green. Turning around and looking at just thousands of people cheering – that was pretty real.”
McILROY: “I don’t want to be in the way; I want him to have this moment. So, we’re having a nice chat or whatever, and the line breaks. I’m sort of like, well, there’s security coming for us, but they’re only going at one person; they’re not coming for me. (Laughs) So I’m like, right, well, I need to get out of here. I ran ahead and tried to get away from it because it was unbelievable.”
LABADIA: “I started picking up the pace, but I’d walked 17 holes, and these guys were hungry, so I got passed by a lot of people, and that’s how I ended up behind the police officers. A couple years before that I remember getting autographs, standing in the front of the line, and the crowd that mobbed him there, I felt claustrophobic and like I was getting pushed. The situation on 18 felt a lot different because the energy felt very positive. It was people pushing, but it was to see him win. I was caught up in the whole energy of it; it was a really cool feeling.”
LaCAVA: “We were walking up the skinniest part of the fairway, next to the lake, and Tiger turned around and said, ‘You don’t realize what’s going on behind you. You’re about to get run over. You better get your ass up here.’ There were people passing me at that point because they’re trying to get to the green to get the best view.”
Ian Lindsey, Manager of Tournament Operations, was with members of his team and preparing for the closing ceremony. Crucially, they had rope, which was going to be used for the writers and photographers. Now it needed to be used for something else, and fast. Lindsey screamed to mobilize his team to form a line, and as he held one end of the rope, a marshal held the other, and they stopped the advancing fans some 50 yards short of the green. Woods and McIlroy, plus their caddies, standard-bearers and walking scorers, were allowed through.
LINDSEY: “I ran straight to where Tiger and Rory were coming out. My main concern was Tiger getting closed in by fans. Thankfully, he moved a little quick and got out of there just in time. All of our operations leadership, all of our security guys, police, APD, all of them were out there, kind of just pacing back and forth and we were – my adrenaline was pumping pretty high. I look over, and we just had everyone, everyone in the line, everyone was taking pictures.”
FILLMORE: “I was so amazed that as quickly as the group came forward, they were so respectful when that line came up, and everyone stopped. I was very happy to see that.”
McILROY: “It took him and Joe a while, especially Joe, to get through the crowd and get to the 18th green. I was there for a couple minutes before they actually got there.”
LaCAVA: “It’s a little different going through all those people with a bag on your shoulder. I think Tiger enjoyed it, he had a little smirk on his face. He and Rory each had a local cop, so I think they felt pretty secure, and I went past them to get ahead of the crowd.”
WOODS: “I got on the green, I looked, and I’m like, Holy cow, there’s a lot of people out there.”
Woods splashed out of the bunker to about 8 feet, but missed his birdie putt. It didn’t matter. When he tapped in for par, he had won by two, and the crowd erupted. Bobby Jones IV, grandson of the great Bobby Jones, was in the clubhouse grill with his wife, Mimi.
JONES: “Now bear in mind this building is a very thick, solid brick building. The roar was so loud that this building actually vibrated, you could actually see water kind of move just a little bit on top of the glasses. And to be present for such an event … I can actually say something that people probably on the course couldn't: I could actually feel the roar.”
Those who were there to witness history began to absorb what had just happened, a process that continues to this day with the aid of cell phone photos and videos.
MALTBIE: “There’s old footage of that happening in The Open Championship, but I’ve never seen anything like that in America before. To call it a euphoric crowd would be an understatement.”
LaCAVA: “You see the old photos of maybe Arnold and Jack with the crowd around, but for people to go under the ropes, I’ve never seen anything like that. We all know the backstory of people thinking Tiger wasn’t going to win again. I think that played into it. I think the crowd was probably bigger than it normally would have been. People wanted to be there to witness it. I didn’t appreciate the full effect of what was going on until I got to the clubhouse and Adam Hayes, who caddies for Jon Rahm, showed me pictures.”
LINDSEY: “About 10 minutes in, or maybe five minutes after Tiger hits that last putt, we were just praying that they weren't gonna try to push any further.”
LABADIA: “Afterward, since there was such a large crowd, they pulled us into the little scoring tent with Tiger. We were kind of too scared to talk to him; it wasn’t really our place. He was talking to his caddie, but he was definitely pretty happy in there. He signed his card, and he signed our standard-bearer placard that had his name on it, and a couple balls. I’ve got that in my room; I’ll show it to my grandkids. A lot of my friends saw me on TV, it was cool.”
McLEOD: “He gave me a ball and then signed a few things for me. He signed my hat, and his name from the score thing that we kept. We have it framed up in my room.”
FOWLER: “I think part of being the TOUR Championship, the venue, end of the year, I don’t think you would see that happen at a normal TOUR event. Obviously, there was a great fan turnout, and when you have everyone who’s there all on one fairway, it makes it look massive. It was almost a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see and have that happen.”
LINDSEY: “I've worked a lot of golf tournaments and that was – never seen anything like that. I went to school in Florida and it reminded me of an SEC football game.”
McILROY: “I didn’t fully appreciate it because I was pissed off at how I played, but even as he’s tapping in to win and I’m looking back up 18, to see the people, it was unbelievable. It was nice that I was the one to play with him when it happened. We’ve had a great relationship for a long time now, and I know what he’s been through. For it just to manifest like that, and to see the amount of good will. Everyone was so happy for him. People need external things to make themselves happy and remind themselves of the good old days or whatever, and that’s what it was like; Tiger was winning a golf tournament, and it was the good old days. It was just an unbelievable atmosphere. It was really cool to be a part of it.”
WOODS: “I really didn’t have it in drive; I just had it in neutral all day. … The rush and the commotion … I’ve experienced things of that nature, but not that energy.”
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