May revels in PGA battle with Tiger

At the Bob May Golf Academy in Las Vegas, TVs are set to highlights from May's epic Sunday duel with Tiger Woods in the 2000 PGA Championship at Valhalla in Louisville, Kentucky.

May, who began teaching full time two years ago after lingering back problems forced him out of tournament golf, uses the footage as a marketing tool for his academy.

But it's also a daily reminder for him and others who come to this facility at the Silverstone Golf Club about one of the most dramatic nine holes in major championship history.

It was one of those "Where were you when it happened?" moments.

Tiger, at the height of his powers after dominating back-to-back wins in majors that summer at the U.S. Open and the Open Championship, was in a veritable game of H-O-R-S-E with a 31-year-old journeyman with no PGA Tour wins.

Shot for shot and birdie for birdie, these two Southern Californians both posted 31 on the back nine, finishing regulation in a tie for the lead at 18 under par.

The ensuing three-hole playoff, which Tiger won by a shot, was a bad encore presentation of what had occurred in the previous two hours.

It took May -- now 45 with a wife and two teenage children -- years to fully grasp what he had accomplished in Valhalla. After the playoff, he was surprised when CBS golf announcers Ken Venturi and Jim Nantz told him that his duel with Tiger on Sunday was the greatest of all time.

Better than Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson in the 1977 Open Championship at Turnberry? Better than Nicklaus and Isao Aoki at Baltusrol in the 1980 U.S. Open?

May didn't think so.

"The older I get and the more people still talk about it," May said, "the more I realize how special it really was."

After that memorable week at Valhalla, May played in only four more major championships, including the 2001 PGA, where he finished 73rd. Back problems that began in 2000 eventually led to surgery for spinal stenosis and 10 weeks of bed rest in 2004. When he came back on tour in 2006, his best finish was a second at the B.C. Open.

But then he began to lose some of his drive and dedication.

"I lost track of the fitness part of the game as I gained more interests," May said. "I started spending more time with my kids. And obviously the first thing I cut out was working out."

His last full season on the PGA Tour was 2007. Since then he has played mostly on the Web.com Tour, where he will try to regain status through Q-school in the fall.

Though May says he's comfortable if Valhalla goes down as his most enduring legacy in the sport, he believes that he still has a lot to accomplish as a player.

"If I can do it back then, I can do it now," he said. "The only thing that slows me down is my back. As long as it feels good, I can hit the ball as good if not better than I did back in 2000."

If May can still hit the ball as well as he did back at Valhalla in 2000, he should have a very nice resurgence on tour. No one before or since has played as well head-to-head against Tiger when the now-38-year-old and now-14-time major champion was fully healthy and at his best.

In the middle of his Tiger Slam, with major wins by 15 and 8 shots at the U.S. Open and the Open Championship that summer, Tiger was seemingly unbeatable. Yet May wasn't distracted by Tiger's dominance or growing mystique.

"I remember a lot of what happened on Sunday," May said. "The thing I don't remember is what was taking place during all of it. I was so focused on my game and playing golf that I didn't realize what was occurring around us."

When May and Tiger made the turn on Sunday tied for the lead, their easy banter ceased.

"We talked to almost about the 10th fairway," May said. "After that point on, we're running out of holes. It's game on. We kind of both went our own ways and started focusing more."

Before the start of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last week at Firestone, Tiger recalled that back nine with May with his own sense of awe and satisfaction.

"It's not too often where you're tied for the lead of a major championship and you go out and shoot 31 on the back nine and lose," Tiger said. "Unfortunately for Bob, that's what happened."

May views the ending at Valhalla a little differently than Tiger.

"There was no loser in this whole thing," he said.

For May, Valhalla was confirmation that he could compete with the best players in the world. In the next week's tour event in Reno, Nevada, he missed getting into a playoff by one shot.

That fall, he was paired with Tiger for the first two rounds at the Disney event.

Still, the two men have never had a chance to speak at length about their famous duel. May believes the ratings would be excellent for a TV sit-down with him and Tiger.

While that conversation might never materialize, the highlights of the event are in the permanent library of golf's most electrifying stories. And one of the best marketing tools for May's academy.

After all these years, it's still difficult for May to adequately put into words what happened that afternoon in Kentucky, because it easily defies explanation. It was pure golf, almost like a fantasy.

So he just watches the footage quietly and appreciatively as he goes about his life trying to teach players of all skill levels. And to digest the realization that for nine holes, he was as good, perhaps, as any player to ever play major championship golf.

May plans to be teaching this week as the PGA Championship is held at Valhalla for the first time since he played there in 2000. But no matter what histrionics transpire over the 72 holes of the year's final major, he and Tiger have earned forever their own special place on the back nine at the Nicklaus-designed course.