Healthy for the first time in years, Notah Begay III finally was on the winning side in his signature charity event, and it felt so very good.
”Five years! Finally! Great!” Begay said Wednesday after teaming with Tiger Woods to shoot 9 under. ”I had to get on my partner. He was getting a little lackadaisical out there.”
Woods and Begay, longtime friends and former college roommates at Stanford, helped lead the American side to victory in the NB3 Foundation Challenge at Turning Stone Resort’s Atunyote Golf Club.
The 12-player field was split into two teams, with Woods and Begay serving on a West squad that also included PGA Tour players Rickie Fowler and Gary Woodland and LPGA Tour players Cristie Kerr and Lexi Thompson.
Woods and Begay took on K.J. Choi and Y.E. Yang in one of three stroke-play matches that were billed as an ”East Meets West” challenge involving Asian and American players. The other pairings had Woodland and Kerr against Danny Lee and Se Ri Pak, and Fowler and Thompson playing against Charlie Wi and Yani Tseng.
Woods and Begay beat Choi and Yang 9-7, Woodland and Kerr beat Lee and Pak 8-7, and Tseng and Wi tied Fowler and Thompson 7-7, giving the Americans a 2.5 to 0.5 victory.
The winning team shared $450,000, and Woods presented Begay a check for $500,000 for his foundation. Begay has raised well over $3 million for his foundation, which is dedicated to helping fight obesity and diabetes in the Native American community.
Plagued by back problems that have relegated him to playing only a few PGA Tour events and spending time in the broadcast booth, Begay shone on a bright, sunny day with a slight breeze, carding five birdies to four for Woods.
Before they teed off, Begay turned to Woods and said: ”We want to win, right?” Woods shrugged, then went out and birdied the opening hole, his short putt catching the lip of the cup and dropping softly to match Yang’s birdie.
Yang sank a 4-foot birdie putt at No. 4 and his tip-in birdie at the par-5 fifth hole, a dogleg left, brought his team to 3 under, one shot ahead after Begay rolled in a 6-foot birdie putt seconds later.
Woods made a 33-foot putt for birdie at No. 7 to even the score between the two groups and Begay followed with a short birdie putt at No. 8 as he and Woods reached 4 under.
When Choi rolled in a downhill 12-foot putt that broke slightly right to left at No. 9, he and Yang were at 4 under and tied with Woods and Begay, Fowler and Thompson, Woodland and Kerr, and Danny Lee and Pak. Tseng and Wi birdied the 10th hole to reach 4 under and knot the competition all around.
Moments later, the match turned. Woods birdied No. 10 and Begay followed with birdie at 11 while their foes made bogey, giving the American duo a two-stroke lead they protected over the remaining holes.
”Everybody out there was playing hard,” Begay said. ”We’ve got a bunch of competitors here, and we certainly knew Y.E. and K.J. weren’t going to give up.
”Tiger’s solution to that? I walked over to him after we both kind of made a mess of No. 12 – and I said, `These guys aren’t going to give up.’ He said, `That’s OK, we’ll just keep making birdies.’ He has a calmness about him, which is good to see.”
Thompson birdied her final hole to halve their match and salvage what was a so-so day.
”Rickie pretty much carried me the whole day,” Thompson said. ”I put in my 3-footer for birdie. That was a good way to end it.”
Despite a poor showing on the weekend at the first FedEx Cup playoff tournament – Woods completed The Barclays at Bethpage Black with a 76, his worst round of the year, to tie for 38th, 11 strokes behind winner Nick Watney – he was upbeat on this day.
”Considering that this time of year I wasn’t playing last year, it’s been nice to play a full season,” Woods said. ”I’ve been very consistent this year considering I hadn’t won in a while. All of a sudden I’ve got three wins this year. I think that’s a positive sign. I’ve been in contention in a few majors. I’ve been close. Just got to keep pecking away at it.
”People don’t realize that because I sat out for so long last year, I didn’t really do any of the work that I needed to do just to improve my game. ”I was just trying to get healthy. The swing changes that I’ve been trying to implement are finally to start to take shape. I think that’s why this season has been so much more productive and why I haven’t had the lows I had last year.”
Woods is scheduled to play in the second FedEx Cup playoff event, the Deutsche Bank Championship, which begins Friday in Norton, Mass.
The NB3 Challenge served as a tune-up of sorts, and Woods was elated to have played with his old Stanford teammate.
”He’s played in chronic pain for so long,” Woods said about Begay, a close friend. ”It was a joy to see him go out and make a few shots, and on top of that just seeing him actually walk normal again. He had a limp there for a number of years. People don’t realize the pain he was in.”