Twenty years ago, Tiger Woods stood on the tee box at the iconic par-3 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass. It was a Saturday, the third round of The Players Championship in 2001, and Tiger was chasing the leaders. Some 137 yards away – specifically at the back top shelf of the island green – stood Fred Funk, putter in hand.
He had a long, speedy, multiple-breaking putt. Tiger fixated his gaze on the putt, curious to see the line and the result.
Tiger Woods, "Better than most"
It was not good. Funk’s putt quickly gathered speed, ran past the hole and ran off the green.
He eventually four-putted, making double bogey despite staying dry. Tiger took note. Don’t hit it where Funk did. Don’t leave yourself with an impossible putt. One swing later and, of course, Woods found himself in nearly the same spot at the 17th green that Funk had just vacated.
“Crap iron shot” is how Tiger described it many years later. That’s probably being kind. NBC, the tournament’s long-time broadcast partner, went to commercial. Commentator Gary Koch, in the TV tower behind the 16th green, used the break to give producer Tommy Roy a head’s up.
Not only had Funk just suffered a disastrous fate from that spot, but so did a handful of other players that day. “Every single one of them had putted the ball off the green,” Koch recalled. “It comes down that slope; they don’t read enough break.
It breaks to the right and the ball ends up in the fringe”. Roy and Koch discussed the situation that Tiger now faced. Back from commercial, Koch set up the scenario as Tiger reached his ball and began visualizing the 60-foot putt and taking a few practice strokes.
Finally, Tiger made contact with his ball. NBC analyst Johnny Miller then asked Koch an on-air question. “How’s that look?” Koch noticed that Tiger’s line and speed were different than the previous putts from that spot. He quickly answered Miller. "Better than most"