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How a round with Tiger Woods shrinks other pressure situations

Kevin Streelman at 2021 PGA Championship
Kevin Streelman, a 2-time winner on the PGA Tour, talks about how he was able to put big moments into perspective after he was paired with Tiger Woods at Torrey Pines in 2008. Streelman will return to the San Diego municipal course next week for the U.S. Open.

Kevin Streelman, who held fleeting glory in 2008 U.S. Open, says he learned to handle big moments from early pairing with Woods

The 2008 U.S. Open is known for one thing: Tiger Woods hobbling on a broken leg to victory in a playoff over Rocco Mediate.

But one of the back stories involved a relatively unknown 29-year-old Kevin Streelman, who shot 68 in the first round to share the lead. Even today, 13 years later, Streelman is a PGA Tour everyman whose name pops up on leaderboards occasionally.

Recently, he contended during the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course, ultimately tying for eighth. It was his first top 10 in 26 major-championship appearances, during a week when 50-year-old Phil Mickelson made history as the oldest major champion.

But after the first round of the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, Streelman was the man of the moment in what would become one of the most memorable weeks in golf history.

“It was surreal,” he said during the PGA Tour’s recent Memorial Tournament. “I was a rookie on Tour. It was only my seventh event on Tour, and at Torrey. I played well at the Buick [Invitational earlier in the year at Torrey Pines]. I played with Tiger there on Saturday, and my third event as a [Tour] member, so I’d known it and liked it. And then to get off to that start.”

After opening with rounds of 67 and 69, Streelman found himself in the final group Saturday with Woods but faded with a 75-77 weekend and a T-29 finish. Woods, meanwhile, went on to win by eight strokes.

“I tell people it was the most valuable experience a young touring professional could ever have,” Streelman said of his third-round pairing with Woods. “To be thrust in that arena at a young age and a beginning part of my PGA Tour career, everything since then has seemed smaller, whether it was Tampa in 2013 when I won, Hartford in 2014 [his second and most recent PGA Tour victory] or even the PGA a few weeks ago. All those seemed smaller than that day with Tiger.”  

Streelman had a late/early draw in the 2008 U.S. Open, so after his first round and interviews with the media, he had very little time to sit on the lead. He stumbled almost immediately Friday morning when he made double bogey at the par-3 third hole, eventually finishing T-53.

Unlike in 2008 when he qualified in Memphis, Tenn., Streelman does not have to qualify for next week's 121st U.S. Open at Torrey Pines because he was in the top 60 of the Official World Golf Ranking on May 24, one of the USGA cutoffs for exemptions.

“Arguably, at least in the modern era, the most memorable U.S. Open in all time, to say that I led after the first round was something that was pretty cool,” Streelman said.

Streelman thinks he has played well at Torrey Pines because it’s a bombers' course that requires accuracy. Though he is not long off the tee by PGA standards, ranking 114th with a 294.8-yard average, Streelman contends that his accuracy (36th on Tour, at 65.8 percent of fairways) should put him in position to score. That, plus his experience 13 years ago as “the other guy” paired with Tiger Woods.

“It was just one of those experiences that you look back at,” said Streelman, who grew up in suburban Chicago and graduated from Duke in 2001. “You must keep putting yourself in uncomfortable situations as a professional athlete. And then they become less uncomfortable and that’s the key to it all, is being the same guy or girl when you’re in the practice round shooting 62 as you are on a Sunday when all the lights are on and try to shoot 62. So, the more time you can be in that Sunday in a nervous situation, the easier that becomes.”

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