Tiger Woods’s foils over his decorated golf career have included the likes of major winners Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh as well as any number of more modest peers content just to be in his company during the final round of a tournament.
On a steamy Sunday afternoon at Congressional Country Club, Bo Van Pelt, who has been on and off the PGA Tour multiple times over nearly two decades as a professional, became the adversary of the moment.
Adding another layer of intrigue was the 20-year friendship between he and Woods, who during Saturday’s third round was particularly chatty with his playing partner when they and fellow competitors had the blue course virtually all to themselves.
The discourse dwindled considerably, though, as the AT&T National reached its final few holes with both players engaged in what essentially was match play to determine the winner.
It was Van Pelt who flinched, missing a chance to apply heat to Woods at No. 16 before making bogey on the next hole. Woods saved par at 17, and Van Pelt shortly thereafter became the latest runner-up to the 14-time major champion.
“I was excited for the opportunity, felt like my game was in good shape and felt like I played well,” said Van Pelt, whose 6-under 278 total left him two shots behind Woods for second place. “Obviously not happy with the finish, but all in all I wouldn’t change any club I hit or any line I took or thoughts I was having. Just didn’t work out.”
Van Pelt matched Woods shot for shot over the first 15 holes Sunday, including making birdie at the par-4 15th to keep pace at 9 under. Then came an opening for Van Pelt at the 579-yard, par-5 16th when Woods sent his approach over the green and down the slope on the other side.
With a 6-iron in hand Van Pelt missed the green too, and his shot landed in rough to the right of a greenside bunker to the left of the pin. The ball was sitting up, but there was a clump of grass in front of it. Worse, the ball was well above Van Pelt’s feet, which were planted in the bunker.
The resulting chip advanced the ball only some five yards, where it remained in the rough. Van Pelt chipped out to the fringe, with the ball fortunately settling there rather than rolling down the slope on the other side. The bogey-6 was all the more magnified knowing Woods as well made a mistake on the hole that left him with bogey.
“I was just trying to get the ball up in the air and play it out to the right a little bit and just hit underneath it a little bit,” Van Pelt said.
At the 437-yard, par-4 17th, Van Pelt sent his drive into the left rough and had approximately 165 yards to the hole. His second shot went over the green and came to rest two feet from a grandstand at the bottom of a hill.
A chip from there rolled to the fringe past the cup, and Van Pelt chipped again, this time within two feet. As Woods ground out a par on the hole, Van Pelt’s bogey compelled him to become aggressive at 18 with the hope of rallying to force a sudden-death playoff.
Woods landed his approach shot 16 feet from the cup at the par-4 18th, and Van Pelt needed to hole out from off the green. His chip sailed past the hole, yielding a third consecutive bogey that in part kept Van Pelt from winning for the second time on the PGA Tour.
“I’ve known Bo a long time,” Wood said. “We’ve gone at it since junior golf and college golf. I’ve known him for a very long time, one of the greatest guys out there. It was a pleasure to play with him the last two days.”
Despite the near miss that would have delivered a handsome payday, the Richmond, Ind.-born Van Pelt’s relaxed demeanor didn’t waver even in defeat. It wouldn’t take much time, in fact, to move past it once he goes home to Tulsa.
“Yeah, I’ll be disappointed for awhile, probably about my flight home tonight and about two hours tomorrow driving up to my boat,” Van Pelt said, “and then once I get on that for the rest of the week, I probably won’t think about it much.”