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With Comeback, Tiger Puts U.S. Title in Tank : Golf: Woods, 18, makes up six-hole deficit and becomes youngest ever to win national amateur championship.

August 29, 1994|CHRIS SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Caution wasn't a consideration as Tiger Woods of Cypress stepped to the 17th tee Sunday with the 94th U.S. Amateur golf championship on the line.

The pin on the Stadium Course's island green was to the back right, a Sunday pin placement from which the most seasoned professionals have shied during the Players Championship.

But Woods, with 18-year-old nerves, took dead aim at the pin and the championship.

In his bid to become the youngest champion in tournament history, Woods already had made up a six-hole deficit in the 36-hole final against Trip Kuehne of McKinney, Tex., with some brilliant shot-making, finally drawing even on the 34th hole with a birdie. This wasn't time to back off.

So from 139 yards, he hit a high soft cut with a wedge that hung delicately in the quartering right-to-left wind. The ball one-hopped the sliver of land between the pin and bulkhead, clinging to the fringe, two feet from the water, 14 feet from the hole.

Woods then made the right-to-left putt for birdie, taking his first lead of the day. One last par at 18 to Kuehne's bogey finalized Woods' historic 2-up victory, also believed to be the largest comeback in U.S. Amateur history.

Woods battled back from a five-hole afternoon deficit by playing the last 12 holes four-under par. From holes 7 through 11, Woods trimmed Kuehne's lead by four to 1-up with two birdies to two Kuehne bogeys.

And looking back to the morning round, he was 6-down through 13 holes and 4-down through 18, thanks to Kuehne's brilliant six-under 66.

"You've got to keep positive," said Woods, who is 19-1 in match play this summer. "When I won the ninth hole (with a par in the afternoon round) to get to 3-down, I figured I had a shot if I shot three or four under on the back."

He shot three under, completing an afternoon round of 68 to Kuehne's 74.

"I feel best about coming back from 6-down and hanging in there," Woods said. "I knew I could if I got into a groove. I just needed to dig deep and do it."

With the victory, Woods becomes the first player in history to win both the U.S. Junior and Amateur championships and the third golfer to win a U.S. Golf Assn. title four consecutive years, joining Bobby Jones and Carolyn Cudone. This follows his three consecutive Junior Amateur titles.

Woods, who is going to Stanford this fall, earned spots in the 1995 U.S. and British opens to go with the Masters invitation that he earned as a finalist.

"This feels great," Woods said. "I had to play some of the best golf of my career. Being the youngest champion hasn't set in yet. It's a weird feeling to win like this. The only time I felt I had won was when I hugged my father (on the 18th green)."

Kuehne, meanwhile, was left to reflect upon the enormous disappointment of letting the prestigious title slip away.

"All you can ask for is an opportunity, and I had one," the 22-year-old Oklahoma State junior said in a wavering voice. "I played super golf. It's hard to put into words how proud I am of myself and how disappointed I am that I did not come out on top. I had ample opportunities. But Tiger displayed why he is the champion he is with his recovery shots to keep the pressure on."

It took remarkable skill and in spots, remarkable luck for Woods to overcome Kuehne. Living up to his name, Tiger played out of the woods a number of times. He hit only 13 of 28 fairways and had a stretch of missing six of seven before hitting the 18th with a two-iron.

"I've grown up in the trees," Woods joked. "I've been so wild for so long. I play out of them all the damn time. When you're able to scramble, that drains an opponent. I had to put pressure on him, because a good player isn't going to give you anything."

Said Kuehne: "If you hit into the trees, you've got to be lucky to have a shot. If you have the shot, you need the skill to make the shot. The kid shot a lotta, lotta, lotta golf game today getting out of those situations to get to the green and cash in."

In the morning, Kuehne was nothing short of brilliant. In shooting a 66, he played the first 13 holes seven-under par with none of his seven birdie putts longer than four feet. He hit 11 fairways and 14 greens, plus was on the fringe of two other greens.

Woods, meanwhile, saw his normally reliable putting hurt him in the morning. He lipped out three short birdie putts--of three feet on No. 11, four on 13 and nine on 17.

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