Tiger Woods wasn't to be denied. Trailing Camilo Villegas in winnings after 15 holes in the Notah Begay III Foundation Challenge at Atunyote Golf Club, $200,000 to $50,000, Woods ended up winning the skins game with $230,000. Villegas won his $200,000 while host Begay won $70,000. Mike Weir was shut out.
Whether or not Tiger Woods will come back to play Atunyote Golf Club remains to be seen, but he clearly enjoyed the experience Monday.
“He said he had a wonderful time,” Oneida Nation Representative and CEO Ray Halbritter said following Woods' victory in the Notah Begay III Foundation Challenge skins game event. “What we have attempted here is to build a quality course that's able to handle the caliber of talent that the top PGA professionals can provide.”
Woods indicated he might return for the challenge, hosted by his longtime friend Begay to raise money for Native American charities that promote fitness among Indian youths.
"I'd do anything for him," Woods said. "What he's trying to do, and what he has done for Native American communities is unheard of, really."
The one-day excitement of having the world's No. 1 golfer in Upstate New York was undeniable. Attendance at this year's Begay charity event easily surpassed last year's, and the reason was easy to see.
* Tiger Woods: $230,000.
* Camilo Villegas: $200,000.
* Notah Begay: $70,000.
* Mike Weir: $0.
“It's the Tiger effect,” said Tim Hobbs of Chittenango, who was watching the action with his stepson Brandon Raymond. “He's playing here - now, and all these people are here just to see him.”
The caliber of play offered by Begay, Camilo Villegas and Mike Weir notwithstanding, Woods was the focus of the 3,000-plus people who paid at least $330 for the event in which golfers competed for tens of thousands of dollars on every hole.
Woods won with a total of $230,000, nosing out Villegas in the final holes.
Atunyote has come into prominence since its construction in 2004, particularly since rains in Binghamton forced the B.C. Open to move on short notice to the course in 2006. Subsequently, Atunyote has played host to the Turning Stone Resort Championship in early autumn.
The presence of Woods on Monday helped add to the Atunyote mystique. Crowds on many greens were thicker than they have been during the three PGA tournaments played here in recent years.
Probably the best chance to see Woods came on the par-4 10th hole. Tucked into a small corner of the course, the hole was all but deserted, and maybe a dozen people surrounded the green waiting for the players.
For most fans, it was easier to skip 10 and 11 and try to get a good seat on 12.
There were good seats to be had at 10, though, for those willing to venture down there. And Woods hit one of his better shots on that hole, sticking his approach about 2 feet from the pin.
One man boasted that he arrived there at 8 a.m., although early arrival did not necessarily guarantee a good seat. The man's view was promptly obstructed by camera crews from the Notah Begay III Foundation.
For a lot of fans, Monday was about trying to get far enough ahead of the action to get a decent view of the golfers. Even as the foursome teed off on the fifth hole, fans already were gathering around the fifth green. And ahead at the sixth green, the gallery was five-deep.
For a lot of fans, Monday was about that one chance to see the best player in the world.
Todd Thompson of Albany hasn't been to any of the PGA events at Atunyote, but he made the trip Monday on the off chance that he'd get to see Tiger Woods. And it paid off.
“We were on the 7th hole, and we tried to guess and pick a spot where his drive would land,” he said. “It landed right in the fairway maybe 10 feet from us, and we got to see him close up. It was the perfect spot.”
Asked if he would come back next year, Thompson said, “Maybe, if the ticket prices are lower.”