Outplaying Tiger Woods just part of Sam Burns' memorable day at the Honda Classic
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — With nearly every step he takes from tee box to green, Tiger Woods is greeted with some sort of chant of encouragement, some of them heartfelt, others ridiculous — all of them loud.
It is a constant cacophony of chatter and cheering and it can be enough to make your head spin.
“Keep grinding, Tiger!”
“This is your place, Tiger!”
“C’mon Tiger, three more birdies!”
Woods typically keeps his head down, perhaps acknowledging a word of encouragement from small kids who line the ropes between greens and tees.
And then there was the loud music playing from off the 13th fairway at the Honda Classic during the final round Sunday, a blaring version of “Eye of the Tiger” with a dozen or so people singing along as Woods was about to pass. Even Tiger couldn’t help but notice, looking over to wave and smile, drawing a huge roar.
Sam Burns could only shake his head in awe.
Born the year before Woods won his first Masters in 1997, Burns, 21, played just his 14th round on the PGA Tour on Sunday — and did so with Woods.
“It was a really cool day, something I’ll always look back on and be thankful it happened,” said Burns, who turned pro last year after a standout career at LSU that saw him win the Jack Nicklaus Award as the top Division I player. “I was fortunate to play a good round of golf and post a good number.”
Good round? Under the circumstances, it was as impressive as anything Sunday aside from Justin Thomas‘ playoff victory over Luke List. Burns birdied two of his first four holes and then parred the rest to shoot 2-under-par 68 to Woods’ 70.
While Woods is trying to regain form after numerous injuries, Burns is at the beginning of his career trying to make his way. He is not an exempt player on the PGA Tour, instead toiling on the Web.com Tour. The Honda Classic gave him a sponsor exemption, and he made the most of it, finishing in a tie for eighth — 6 shots out of the playoff — and earning $191,400.
“He played beautifully,” Woods said. “Top-10 is big for him because it gets him to Tampa [the Valspar Championship in two weeks], next official full-field event. He’s trying to build momentum and build his exempt status. Today and this week was a big step for him.”
Woods wouldn’t have known Sam Burns from George Burns before the round began. As they practiced on the same putting green, Woods had no idea Burns was the player he’d be paired with in the final round.
They met for the first time when introduced on the first tee.
“It’s almost like I’m speechless,” Burns said of learning he’d be playing with Woods in the final round. “You see the guy on TV, you see him all over the place and you’re standing there next to him on the tee box and you’re like, ‘That’s Tiger Woods.'”
As for the first tee shot? “I don’t hardly remember it. I kind of blacked out. The way he handles the crowds, it’s really cool to see.”
Woods did Burns a favor by engaging him often in some chit-chat, which undoubtedly calmed the nerves and took away some of the angst that can be associated with such a big gathering.
Burns said the gallery he saw Sunday was unlike anything he previously had seen from inside the ropes.
“We had a blast,” he said. “He was super nice. Very encouraging. I think we’re all happy to see him back playing golf. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it’s something that I’ll always be glad that happened and will always be able to tell stories.”
As Woods spoke with reporters afterward, Burns waited off to the side, listening. This is how it is for Woods after every round he plays — just as the commotion on the course is the norm for him.
“It’s unfortunate for him, really,” Burns said. “With Tiger, it’s every time he tees it up, and it’s got to wear on him a little bit. But he really does a great job with it all.”
Burns did a great job with it all Sunday in what was a memorable round in more ways than one.