Gut Check Weakened by food poisoning, Tiger Woods made his strongest showing of the year, winning a fourth straight title at Bay Hill

March 31, 2003

From the file of Things You Thought You'd Never Read about the
Best Golfer in the World: Tiger Woods took a five-shot lead into
Sunday's final round of the Bay Hill Invitational, and then
promptly threw up on himself. ¶ We're not talking about the golf
euphemism for playing badly under pressure. No, Woods really
vomited--or would have, had there been any food left in his
stomach after an all-night, all-morning vigil at the commode. The
culprit? Pasta, Woods said. Specifically, a plate of "bad
spaghetti," Woods revealed to playing partner Brad Faxon during
the final round, when Woods was frequently seen doubled over or
kneeling in stomach-churning pain. The cook? "E," Woods said,
meaning girlfriend Elin Nordegren, who had collapsed last Friday
in the Bay Hill parking lot and was rushed to Orlando's Sand Lake
Hospital. Doctors there said she was dehydrated after her own
bout of food poisoning the night before. (There is no truth to
the rumor that health officials searched the fridge in Tiger's
nearby house and found this note: "Tiger, enjoy this Italian
dish. It's one of my faves. Your pal, Ernie Els.")

This was nothing like a normal Tiger Woods win, although his
closing, no-bogey 68 and demoralizing 11-shot margin of victory
had a familiar ring. This time Woods was a walking zombie as he
played in a day-long downpour, but he nonetheless won for the
third time in four starts since returning from knee surgery. In
that time he has shown more game than ever--if that's
possible--and seems poised to surpass his nine-win,
three-major-championship performance of 2000, the year he also
won three times before the Masters.

The Bay Hill win, his 37th on Tour, may rate among Woods's most
satisfying for several reasons. First, he made his 100th
consecutive cut, leaving him 13 shy of Byron Nelson's Tour record
and only five behind runner-up Jack Nicklaus. Second, Tiger
smacked down No. 2--ranked Ernie Els, who was supposedly closing
the gap on Woods but finished 19 shots behind him. Finally, Woods
also equaled a venerable Tour record by winning the same
tournament four years in a row, joining Walter Hagen, who won
four consecutive PGA Championships, starting in 1924, and Gene
Sarazen, who took four straight Miami Opens in a five-year
stretch from 1926 through 1930. (The event wasn't held in 1927.)
"I rapped with Gene in the champions' locker room at Augusta a
few times, which was pretty neat," Woods said. "His stories go
back to the 1930s; what he used to hit here, what he did there.
That was before my dad was even born."

If a fourth straight Bay Hill title hadn't been on the line,
Woods said he wouldn't even have gotten out of bed on Sunday. "If
I hadn't been in contention, I wouldn't have played," Woods said.
"No way." He even considered going to the hospital last Saturday
night. "The problem is, it's easy to check into a hospital.
Getting out is the hard part. I wanted to get an IV drip, get my
fluid levels up, but I didn't know if they'd let me out, so I
decided not to."

The entire round was a gut check. To warm up, Woods hit barely
two dozen balls. (He usually hits at least 100.) During a lengthy
wait on the 2nd tee, Woods sat perfectly still on his bag with
his black Buick umbrella pulled low around him. After he hit on
the 218-yard par-3 hole, he ducked left of the tee toward some
bushes, where he stood bent over for several minutes.

The walk from the 2nd green to the 3rd tee was up an incline, and
Woods, eyes wide, ascended slowly, as if he weren't sure he'd
make it. After his tee shot there, he darted left and squatted at
the edge of a wooded area, where he was sick again for a few long
minutes before wiping his mouth, standing and carefully moving up
the fairway.

On the 4th tee Woods grabbed a bottle of Sierra Mist from a
cooler, sat down on his bag and took a few tiny sips before
hitting his tee shot on the par-5 hole. As a light rain turned
into a downpour, caddie Steve Williams carried Tiger's bag over
one shoulder and held an umbrella over Woods's head with his free
arm. Tiger, head down, plodded to his ball, at one point walking
right through a puddle that he either didn't see or simply didn't
bother to avoid.

He leaned against a table behind the 4th green as he waited for
Faxon and the third member of their group, Stewart Cink, to putt
out, and then, after teeing off at 5, walked past a temporary
fence and crouched down between two vans parked nearby, hiding
from sight for a few minutes.

"I was joking with my caddie on the 7th hole that we'd probably
be playing a twosome on the back nine," said Cink, who ended up
in a second-place tie with Faxon, Kenny Perry and Kirk Triplett.
"If it was a Thursday and somebody was feeling like Tiger was,
you'd be guaranteed to be playing a twosome on the back."

Although Woods looked the sickest on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th holes,
that's where he essentially closed out the tournament. He faced
an impossible 100-foot putt over a ridge at the 2nd, and his
first try nearly went off the green, stopping 15 feet below the
hole. "That's a bogey," said a member of Woods's entourage near
the gallery ropes. "His body language isn't saying he's going to
make this." Wrong interpretation. Woods holed the par-saver to
keep his five-shot advantage. Faxon missed an eight-footer for
par at the 3rd, but Woods, on the same line, rolled in a slightly
shorter one for par to stretch the lead to six. Woods blistered a
drive at the 4th, then hit a stunning three-wood shot to 12 feet.
When his eagle putt disappeared into the hole, he barely reacted.
The eagle put his lead at eight, and if he could stay upright,
the tournament was his. "That three-wood was a beautiful shot,"
Faxon said. "That iced the cake. As sick as he felt, he was ready
to play. I don't think he would've played much better than that
if he'd felt great."

Cink exchanged a few words with Woods as they walked off the 8th
tee, and Woods actually flashed a smile. "Tiger told me he'd been
up all night with stomach problems," said Cink. "I don't want to
be too graphic about what he said. Let's just say I hope he had
two toilets in his bathroom."

Woods didn't make a bogey in his last 44 holes, quite a feat on a
track as testing as Bay Hill. Faxon deserves a small assist. He
supplied Woods with some antidiarrhea medication at the 12th
hole. "Tiger was in the portable bathroom when I walked by, and I
heard some sounds that were not, um, urination," Faxon said.
"When he came out, I asked if he was O.K., did he want some
Imodium? He took it and said thanks."

The fact is, while Woods's dead-man-winning effort on Sunday was
mesmerizing, he had sewn up the title on Saturday, when he
finished the last 11 holes of his rain-delayed second round, and
then played the third round. He birdied 12 of his 29 holes. "This
tournament is over," Peter Jacobsen said while Woods was still on
the course. "I mean, it's over."

The greatly anticipated Tiger versus Ernie showdown was
short-lived too. When Friday's round was called on account of
darkness after a five-hour rain delay, Els, who had completed a
seven-under 65 before the horn sounded, held a one-shot lead. By
the end of the day on Saturday, after he had shot 72, he trailed
Woods by 10. Els viewed Bay Hill as a prelim to the big fight,
the Masters. "I think, in a way, we delivered," he said of the
budding rivalry. "Especially Tiger. He's still the man. But
you've got to keep going." The Bay Hill showdown came with an
asterisk: Els arrived in Orlando with a sore right wrist
from--"You're going to laugh," he said--working out on a punching
bag in his garage in London the week before. The injury wasn't as
funny on Sunday when Els shot a 77 and slipped all the way to
38th place.

Tiger versus Ernie followed the tournament's opening act: Jack
Nicklaus and tournament host Arnold Palmer making their farewell
to Bay Hill. Palmer, 73 and fighting a bum shoulder, shot 87--85.
Asked if he'd play again next year, he said, "God, I hope I'm
alive next year." Nicklaus, 63, struggled through rounds of 82
and 76. He has shed a few pounds, which has helped his ailing
back and therefore has him interested in playing more. He'll hold
off deciding about entering the Masters until he plays a round at
Augusta National, possibly this week, although he was anything
but encouraged by his showing at Bay Hill. "If this is any
indication, I can't play anything," Nicklaus said. "We're talking
about something ridiculous. Me playing Augusta, what difference
does it make? I'm not going to win. I want to play because I'd
like to be there, but I don't want to be there if I can't
compete."

Translation: Jack wants to play and is looking for a sign--any
sign--that he can cobble together enough game to shoot a
respectable score. "Now I've got a great predicament," Nicklaus
said. "Last year I had a wonderful year with nobody worrying
about me playing golf. I didn't worry about me playing golf. Now
I'm tempted to play." Translation: He'll be there as Woods goes
for more history, a record third straight green jacket.

Perhaps by then Woods will have grasped the significance of his
latest record feat, winning four in a row at Bay Hill. Asked
about it on Sunday evening, Woods said, "I'm not really thinking
about that a whole lot right now." He looked around
uncomfortably, then smiled. "I'm thinking about when I can get
out of here and go to the bathroom."

There's another one for the file on Things You Thought You'd
Never Read about the Best Golfer in the World: Damn, this man is
funny.

Gary Van Sickle's Underground Golfer appears weekly on
golfonline.com.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID WALBERG [INSIDE COVER] FOUR WARNING Look Out, World, Tiger's Back on a 2000-like Roll G6 RECORD ROMP Woods gutted out a fourth straight victory at Bay Hill. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID WALBERG REST STOP A weary Woods was nonetheless the only player to go bogey-free (with a 68) in Sunday's rainy final round. COLOR PHOTO: FRED VUICH (TOP) DOUBLE DIP Woods's third win of 2003 equaled a 73-year-old Tour record and matched his spectacular start in 2000. COLOR PHOTO: FRED VUICH PRELIMINARY failure Els couldn't keep up at Bay Hill, but his real test will come at the Masters. B/W PHOTO: BETTMANN/CORBIS HEAD-TO-HEAD Palmer and Nicklaus at the '62 U.S. Open.

ARNIE VS. JACK

Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer first played in the same PGA Tour
event in 1958, at the U.S. Open. Last week's Bay Hill
Invitational was the 318th, and perhaps last, time they'll tee it
up together on the regular Tour. Here's the tale of the tape on
two icons of the game.

PALMER EDGE NICKLAUS

AGE
73 63
EDGE NICKLAUS

YEARS AS PRO
48 41
[EDGE PALMER]

TOUR STARTS
729 593
[EDGE PALMER]

TOUR WINS
62 73
[EDGE NICKLAUS]

MAJORS
7 18
[EDGE NICKLAUS]

MAJOR MOMENT
Driving 1st green on final Shooting final-nine
day of '60 U.S. Open 30 at '86 Masters
[EDGE NICKLAUS]

OWN EVENT
Bay Hill Memorial
[EDGE NICKLAUS]

LAST TOUR WIN
1973 Hope 1986 Masters
[EDGE NICKLAUS]

SENIOR STARTS
293 71
[EDGE PALMER]

SENIOR WINS
10 10
[EDGE EVEN]

SENIOR MAJORS
5 8
[EDGE NICKLAUS]

LAST SENIOR WIN
1988 Crestar 1996 Tradition
[EDGE NICKLAUS]

CAREER MONEY
$3,590,832 $8,828,943
[EDGE NICKLAUS]

ALSO FAMOUS FOR
Piloting own jet Fainting at children's births
[EDGE PALMER]

CHILDREN
2 5
[EDGE NICKLAUS]

GRANDCHILDREN
7 15
[EDGE NICKLAUS]

RYDER CUP RECORD
22-8-2 17-8-3
[EDGE PALMER]

RYDER CUP CAPTAIN
2-0 1-1
[EDGE PALMER]

AUGUSTA MEMBER?
Yes Yes
[EDGE EVEN]

2003 MASTERS ITINERARY
Champions dinner Contestant
[EDGE NICKLAUS]

COURSES DESIGNED
300 220
[EDGE PALMER]

TOP 100 COURSES
0 3
[EDGE NICKLAUS]

BEST QUOTE LAST WEEK
"I doubt I'll play "Arnie will be playing
at Muirfield.... Jack when he's 93. He'll figure
hasn't invited me yet." out some way to play."
[EDGE PALMER]

NEPOTISM LAST WEEK
Had grandson Sam Had son Gary ride
Saunders as caddie coattails into field
[EDGE PALMER]

PERSONAL LOGO
Umbrella Golden Bear
[EDGE NICKLAUS]

TOP HONOR
AP Sportsman SI Male Athlete
of the '60s of the Century
[EDGE NICKLAUS]

P.R. BLUNDER
While USGA spokesman, Said blacks have
said it was O.K. to use muscles that react
nonconforming clubs in different ways
[EDGE NICKLAUS]

TROPHY ROOM
Barn in Latrobe, Pa. Museum in Columbus, Ohio
[EDGE NICKLAUS]

"If I hadn't been in contention, I wouldn't have played," said
Woods. "No way."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)