Zac Blair gets front-row seat to Tiger's worst round as a pro

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DUBLIN, Ohio -- Zac Blair had a dream.

It started when he was 6 or 7 years old, just getting into golf. It blossomed right before his 10th birthday, when his father was competing in the 2000 PGA Championship. And it continued through his college years at BYU and turning professional and joining the PGA Tour as a rookie this season.

He wanted to play a round of golf with Tiger Woods.

Blair had only met Woods a few times before -- if getting an autograph can be considered meeting him. The first time was at that PGA Championship, where his father, James, was one of the club professionals in the field, and where Woods would prevail in an indelible playoff. Other encounters were similarly unmemorable, Blair pushing a Sharpie toward Woods and Woods proffering a signature.

When he finally joined the PGA Tour, Blair listed Woods in his dream foursome, but in the few tournaments each had played, they were never paired.

That changed on Saturday, when the dream finally came true.

With matching scores of 1-under 143 through two rounds of the Memorial Tournament, Woods and Blair were assigned to the 8:28 a.m. tee time on Saturday, the third pairing of the day. When he found out, Blair tweeted that he'd be playing with his idol. It was a storybook scenario, the kind you see in movies.

Blair's dream, though, quickly turned into Woods' nightmare.

Here are the grisly details: Blair's round of 70 beat his idol by 15 strokes; he didn't give up honors off the tee until the 16th hole; if they were playing match play, it would have been an 8-and-6 victory for the rookie.

Blair is a baby-faced 24-year-old who looks like he's going on 14. He's listed at a generous 5-foot-6, 155 pounds. He's making just his 23rd career start and has posted exactly one previous top-10 result.

The point is, he doesn't quite strike an intimidating figure, certainly not like his idol did during a reign that netted 79 wins and 14 major championship titles.

After a round that saw Woods at his most embarrassed, limping home with a quadruple-bogey on the final hole to shoot a career-high 85, Blair didn't pound his chest. He didn't gloat. He barely even smiled.

No, the main theme of his post-round interview session was empathy.

"He's just kind of working through some things," Blair said. "Obviously, it takes some time to work through some swing changes and stuff like that. But he's the best player to ever play, in my opinion. He'll get back to playing good."

It's one thing for a rookie to speak in reverential tones about a fellow player he's idolized. It's another for him to offer up what was essentially a public pep talk, openly rooting for Woods to regain some semblance of his previous form.

Even in those wildest dreams, Blair had never dared imagine beating Woods by such monumental proportions.

Now that he had, he was more concerned than satisfied.

"It's kind of what you dreamed of your whole life, playing in front of a lot of people," he explained. "I wish he would have played better."

It was the worst score of Woods' professional career. In addition to that closing quad, he posted two double-bogeys, six bogeys and a single birdie. Four swings resulted with his ball in a water hazard. He didn't make a putt longer than 5 feet.

Even during previous poor performances, there was always a silver lining. This round was one big dark cloud.

Afterwards, Woods declined all interview requests. And who could blame him? There's not much to say after a day in which nothing went right.

Instead, Blair was left to speak for his playing partner and idol. Left to empathize with his struggles.

"It was, obviously, maybe the worst round he's ever played," he said. "But I don't think he ever got disrespectful out there. And he was always super courteous to me and friendly."

They shook hands on the 18th green, just after Woods hit a tee shot into the creek, then needed three short wedge shots just to get onto the green and two-putted.

Woods told Blair he'd played a heck of a round. Blair told Woods he hoped they could do it again soon.

For Blair, it was the culmination of a longtime dream come true. For Woods, the entire round must have felt like a nightmare.