ATLANTA — Walking up the 18th fairway at East Lake Golf Club, the rumble was gaining on Tiger Woods and caddie Joe LaCava. With them was Rory McIlroy and his caddie, Harry Diamond. By the time they had all reached the green, the four of them barely emerged unscathed from the madness.
“I could hear it,” Woods said of the stampede that followed the group as they strolled to hit their second shots. “I just didn’t really see much of it. I was looking forward and I figured that security would hold them back.”
He figured wrong.
The scene was unlike any golf tournament in recent memory. Perhaps not since Woods played Rocco Mediate in a playoff to win the 2008 U.S. Open — where fans climbed trees and hung off of nearby balconies to catch a glimpse — had a golf course become so overrun by fans. Even that day a decade ago at Torrey Pines didn’t compare to Sunday in Atlanta.
McIlroy had a different take on it, telling Woods that it reminded him of the chaotic 18th hole scene in 1980 when Jack Nicklaus won the U.S. Open at Baltusrol in New Jersey.
“I just didn’t have the tight pants and the hair,” Woods joked about the comparison. “But it was all good.”
While some golf traditionalists might grumble that there was a lack of decorum shown by the cell phone-wielding throngs, LaCava, a PGA Tour caddie for more than three decades, was among those who embraced the madness.
“That was awesome,” LaCava said in the quiet of East Lake’s caddie room while Woods addressed the crowd during the trophy presentation on the other side of the door. “I thought it was terrific. I kept telling the cops, ‘as long as they don’t trample us, let them keep coming.’ Why not? It’s fun. That’s what golf needs, right? They don’t do it for anyone else, so why not?”
Eventually, as the crowd started closing in, players and caddies had to pick up their pace to get away from it all.
“I thought it was ok for a while and then they started coming a little quicker,” LaCava said. “So, I said `screw it, I’m outta here.’ And the cops didn’t seem to be doing a whole lot, so I just thought ‘let me get my butt up there. If somebody trips in front of you, it’s over.’”
After the final putt dropped and Woods hoisted both arms into the air in victory, he shared an embrace with LaCava, who began caddying for Woods in 2011 after the 14-time major winner parted ways with Steve Williams.
“He just kept saying we did it, we did it,” LaCava said. “And I said, ‘all that hard work paid off, I’m happy for you.’ He’s always trying to make you feel part of the team, but let’s be honest, he’s the one hitting all the shots and making the putts. It’s nice that he does it, but I want to make sure I turn it back on him. He deserves all the credit.”
I kept telling the cops, ‘as long as they don’t trample us, let them keep coming.’ Why not? It’s fun.
While he won’t admit it, LaCava might deserve some credit for making Woods work on his bunker game heading into the tournament. Two weeks ago, LaCava said he received a text from Woods asking him ‘what do I need to do?’
“I told him he needed to square up his bunker game,” LaCava said. “I told him he was an average bunker player and he worked at it last week. He recognized it after the first two days this week. He said `what do you know, I’m 100 percent in bunker play and I’m tied for the lead after two days.’ It’s true. His bunker game was very average coming into this week. That’s not the reason he won the golf tournament, but he made a lot of good bunker shots.”
The win ended Woods’s five-year winless drought and secured his 80th PGA Tour title. He’s now just two wins away from tying Sam Snead’s Tour record of 82 victories.
— The Caddie Network (@CaddieNetwork) September 24, 2018
“You could tell on the last green that he was pretty pumped up that he won,” LaCava said. “He knew he had accomplished quite a feat. A couple years ago he never thought he was going to ever play again. He really thought that, so it’s quite an accomplishment for sure. He put in so much work. People have no idea how much work he put in.”
For Woods, the win was the culmination of a hard-fought comeback from several back surgeries and personal struggles. For LaCava, it validated his belief in the player he left Dustin Johnson for in 2011 and could have walked away from over the past few years while Woods fell as low as No. 899 in the World Golf Rankings.
“He played so well the first two years it was hard to walk away from that,” LaCava said of Woods’s play in 2012 and 2013. “Now I’m seeing signs of that again. The last two months he has played phenomenal. I just feel really good for him.”