This one was too good to be true.
It was only the second time Tiger Woods has opened a PGA tournament with an eagle and it likely won’t ever be topped as he sank a 24-foot, 8-inch putt on the first hole of the Genesis Invitational Thursday, making headlines throughout the sports world after it slowly rolled in.
“It’s ironic isn’t it,” said Woods, following his two-under par 69, talking in the pressroom about the significance of it afterwards. “It was a nice way to start.”
Oh my, was it.
Woods learned after the putt that the 24 and 8 were special – both worn by basketball legend Kobe Bryant, who was one of nine people who died when the helicopter they were in crashed on a hillside in Calabasas in late January. Among the victims was Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.
Woods and Bryant had been steadfast friends over the years.
“No matter what we do for awhile we’re always going to remember Kobe and what he meant, especially here in SoCal and it’s awfully ironic that I have those numbers … and those exact measurements,” said Woods on the Golf Channel.
To get in position to make the putt representing the two jersey numbers, Woods belted a 3-wood off the No. 1 tee at Riviera Country Club’s downhill par 5, then hit an 8-iron from 171 yards neatly on the green.
In one stroke the focus was on Kobe and what the putt meant. It would be one of Woods’ finest moments, paying homage to a man he admired.
Tiger made the discovery when someone told him as he was walking off the 18th green.
“It’s a shocker to everyone,” he told CBS Sports, reflecting on the Laker legend. “I’m unbelievably sad. For me the reality is just sitting in because I just heard about it five minutes ago.”
Asked what he will miss most about Kobe, Woods replied, “The fire. He burned so competitively hot. And his desire to win. He brought it each and every night at both ends of the floor. Not too many guys can say that throughout NBA history. He’d lock up on D (defense). Obviously, he was dominant on the offensive side. Anytime he was in the game, he’d take on their best player and shut him down for all 48 minutes. That was one of the more impressive things.”
After first round play, Woods finds himself five strokes off the pace, trailing leader Matt Kuchar, who fired a bogey-free 7-under 64, three strokes better than a handful of golfers.
It’s a coincidence that the ball found its way into the cup from the exact measurements of 24 and 8. However, it’s not the only unique aspect of Woods’ career. In the year 2000 he won his 100th tournament at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational. In his 200th start in 2006 he won the Farmers Insurance Open and his 300th start he won the 2013 Players Championship.
Indeed, Thursday’s putt will forever remain a real head scratcher.