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Date Posted: 10:45:53 09/07/06 Thu
Author: J.J.
Subject: Courant article on former CCSU golfer

Tiger Would Have Approved

September 7, 2006
By BRUCE BERLET, Courant Staff Writer

John Elliott pulled off his best Tiger Woods impersonation four weeks ago.

Needing an eagle on the par-5 18th hole to force a playoff in the New England Pro Golf Tour's Sterling Open in Massachusetts, Elliott hit a driver off the fairway from 290 yards to 25 feet. The Bristol native and former Central Connecticut State University player then made the putt for a 3 and birdied the first extra hole to win.

"I've probably never hit a better shot," Elliott said Tuesday, his 43rd birthday. "I had some good nerves going because I hadn't won since some Hooters [Tour] events last year. But I hit the driver just to try get the shot somewhere near the green. I never dreamed I'd hit it perfect and get it on the green. Then I got nervous over the putt but drove it home."

Making a putt and winning a playoff are commonplace for Woods, who won his fifth straight PGA Tour start Monday at the Deutsche Bank Championship in Norton, Mass.

Elliott recalled playing with Woods in the 1996 Milwaukee Open. Woods was making his pro debut after signing a $40 million deal with Nike.

Elliott hit all 18 greens in regulation in a first-round 68, a stroke higher than Woods. But Elliott putted badly in the second round and missed the cut by one. Woods tied for 60th and earned $2,544.

"It was no big deal," said Elliott, who played on the PGA and Nationwide Tours from 1990-2005. "I wasn't really nervous because I'd been playing forever. The only thing that had me on a little bit on edge was the fans were 10 deep on every hole for two days." A week later, Elliott and Woods were paired again in the Quad City Classic (now the John Deere Classic).

"He made six birdies in a row, including putting two in from off the green with a 3-wood," said Elliott, who missed the cut again. "That started to give me a clue the guy was pretty good."

Ed Fiori rallied in the final round to beat Woods, who closed with a 72. It's the only tour event Woods has not won after having the 54-hole lead.

Three weeks later, Woods beat Davis Love III in a playoff to win the Las Vegas Invitational. And two weeks after that, he won the Disney World Classic.

Elliott renewed acquaintances with Woods at the 2004 U.S. Open after not seeing him in five years.

"I walked up to him on the [Shinnecock Hills] range, and he said, `Hey, Jumbo, how ya been?'" Elliott said. "I said, `If I closed my eyes and fell asleep in '96 and woke up and saw you'd won 40 times, I wouldn't have believed it.' He said, `I wouldn't have either.'"

Elliott lost his PGA Tour card after an injury-plagued 2005 season. This year, in addition to his victory in Sterling, Mass., where he earned $15,347, he finished second in the Vermont Open and third in the Massachusetts Open.

Woods, of course, has won seven of 14 tour starts in 2006, including the British Open and PGA Championship.

Elliott knows why.

"He's the only guy I know who can keep a high level of confidence all the time, whether he's playing good or bad, which lets him make the most out of nothing," Elliott said. "I think he'll win 125 tournaments and 25-30 majors because he's getting more comfortable all the time, especially in the majors. It'll be fun the next 10 years and beyond to watch it all unfold."

Contact Bruce Berlet at bberlet@courant.com.

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