SAN DIEGO, Calif. – Tiger Woods has heard just about everything from playing before the biggest crowds in golf, and he tends to ignore it. Most puzzling was what he kept hearing along the back nine Sunday at Torrey Pines.
“Do it for Mamba.”
Only after Woods finished his final round of 2-under 70 to tie for ninth in the Farmers Insurance Open did he realize what it meant. His caddie, Joe LaCava, told him as they walked to the scoring room that Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash.
Woods could be heard replying, “Excuse me?”
Such was the shock for Woods that he made a rare detour from his two media stops to sign autographs, presumably to collect his thoughts. Woods typically signs after he is done with his interviews.
“One of the most shocking, tragic days that I've ever been a part of,” Woods said.
Woods and Bryant arrived at roughly the same time in 1996. Woods won the first of his 82 titles on the PGA Tour on Oct. 6, 1996, at the Las Vegas Invitational. Bryant made his first appearance for the Lakers the following month.
Woods said they spent time together when he still had a home in Newport Beach, but they rarely connected after Woods moved to Florida.
“We really connected on more the mental side of it ... how much it takes to be prepared,” Woods said. “For me, I don't have to react like he does in my sport, we can take our time. But you've still got to pay attention to the details and that's what he did better than probably any other player in NBA history..
“That's where he and I really connected because we're very similar,” Woods said. “He came in the league and I turned pro right around the same time and we had our 20-year run together. It's shocking.”
Most other players were not aware of the tragedy about two hours to the north during the round, including Rory McIlroy, a sports junkie who said he grew up idolizing Bryant. McIlroy, from Northern Ireland, said the 2000 NBA Finals is what led him to follow basketball.
“He was a pure master of what he did,” McIlroy said. “That's just so sad.”
For Woods, it was personal. He was a Lakers fan for as long as he can remember. Woods once told of how his late father would tell him that Magic Johnson would add a new shot to his repertoire every year. And along came Bryant, roughly the same age, and someone with whom he spent time.
“It's unbelievable, the reality that he's no longer here," Woods said.
Bryant meant so much to Tony Finau that the golfer's manager drove from Los Angeles to San Diego to tell him after the round. Finau wore golf shoes that were purple-and-gold in the first round of the FedEx Cup playoffs opener on Aug. 24, 2017, in honor of “Mamba Day” — 8/24 on the calendar, the two jersey numbers worn by Bryant.
Finau said he had some of the feelings he experienced from his mother dying in a car accident in 2011.
“The love of a mother is one that I think you can't replace, but to have some of those feelings come back when I heard the news makes me quite sad. I'll be mourning for him,” Finau said. “I think the the way to live a life that respects Kobe and that he would respect is to have the Mamba mentality. Maybe that's something that I need, work even harder at your craft and have more love for your craft and maybe that's something that we all need.”