'Idiot' advice might push William McGirt to first win

DUBLIN, Ohio -- William McGirt doesn't know how he'll perform in the Memorial Tournament final round on Sunday. He doesn't know how he'll react to being in contention, the latest in a growing number of opportunities to claim his elusive first PGA Tour title.

He does know one thing, though. He'll be checking his position on the leaderboard throughout the entire day.

It all goes back to a lesson learned four years ago.

Entering the final round of the 2012 Canadian Open, McGirt was in prime position to win the tournament.

And yes, he was admittedly a little nervous. After all, this is a guy who claims he'd "run out of fingers and toes" if he had to count all of the different developmental mini-tours he'd played before reaching the highest level. This was his sophomore season on the PGA Tour and his best chance so far and, well, he didn't want to screw it up.

Trying to remain in the moment, he decided he wouldn't look at a leaderboard throughout the day. He didn't want to know his position, didn't want to be thinking about it too much. The end result? He posted a respectable 1-under 69, but still lost by a stroke.

Eight days later, around 8 a.m. on Monday morning of the PGA Championship, McGirt was on the practice green when Tiger Woods' caddie, Joe LaCava, approached to congratulate McGirt on the strong finish.

"I only have one regret," McGirt told him. "I never looked at a leaderboard all day."

Stroking putts nearby, Woods instantly spun around and confronted his fellow pro.

Until this moment, the two of them had barely crossed paths, let alone shared a conversation. That was about to change.

"What?" Woods exclaimed as he walked toward McGirt until they were nose to nose. "OK, spill the beans."

McGirt proceeded to explain that it was the first time he'd been in that position, and he didn't want to get caught up with checking where he sat amongst the contenders.

After listening to that explanation, Woods looked him in the eye and responded, "You think Kobe [Bryant] doesn't look at the scoreboard with a minute to go in the game?"

He then offered a few more choice words, followed by three that McGirt will never forget: "You're an idiot."

The second-year PGA Tour pro immediately understood his mistake.

"OK, we agree," he told him. "We're on the same page."

Ever since that day, McGirt has been a leaderboard-watcher. He owns three career runner-up finishes, including at this season's Sanderson Farms Championship, inching ever closer to the winner's circle.

Like so many others before him, he has learned these close calls should be viewed more as positive occurrences than negative.

"You have to go back and actually pat yourself on the back for how well you have played just to put yourself in that position," he explained after a third-round, 8-under 64 vaulted him into a share of the 54-hole lead on Saturday. "Sometimes a guy goes out and shoots 63 and beats you. Sometimes you go out and shoot 75 and hand it to him. ... Every week, there's only one winner. So there's 155 losers most weeks; there will be 119 losers this week. It's kind of hard to beat yourself up too bad over that."

On Sunday, McGirt will have yet another opportunity to capitalize on Woods' advice.

He now understands the benefit of watching the leaderboard and how he can use that knowledge to his advantage during the round.

"It's been a lot of help," McGirt said. "Every time I've been in that position since, I'm staring at the leaderboard. I want to know where I am, what I need to do."

It all stems from an impromptu admission at a timely moment on a practice green almost four years ago.

McGirt said he doesn't know whether he would've started looking at leaderboards over time without Woods' admonition, but that easily propelled him to explore the new strategy.

"I mean, coming from one of the two greatest to ever play the game," he explained, "it's kind of hard to not take that advice and do something with it."