'The Tiger I know is a survivor and a fighter,' Bill Paul weighs in on Tiger Woods

Longtime Canadian Open tournament director Bill Paul remembers the summer of 2000 well.

He learned in early July of that year that Tiger Woods — already a phenom just a few years into his pro career — was planning to play at the national championship that September at Glen Abbey.

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"There were three people that knew and that was Tiger, (agent Mark) Steinberg and myself," Paul recalled Wednesday. "I never told my wife, I didn't tell anybody in my family. I didn't tell any friends, I didn't tell anybody."

Having Woods in the field at the 1996 and '97 editions of the tournament was one thing. Landing him in 2000 — fresh off three straight major titles — was something completely different.

Woods, 45, has been top of mind for the golf community of late.

He was hospitalized after a single-vehicle crash near Los Angeles on Tuesday left him with significant injuries to his right leg, foot and ankle. A statement on his Twitter account said he was awake and recovering.

"The Tiger that I know is a survivor and a fighter," Paul said. "I think this is just another challenge for the guy."

With his golf future uncertain, many have been thinking about Woods's long list of accomplishments and memorable moments over his incredible career.

For the now-retired Paul, his thoughts turn back to Tiger's early years and the leadup to that 2000 Open in Oakville, Ont.

Paul first met Woods at Augusta National in 1995 and the youngster made his second pro appearance at the Canadian Open a year later. Woods finished 11th at that rain-shortened 1996 event, six shots behind winner Dudley Hart, pocketing US$37,500 for his efforts.

Woods missed the cut at Royal Montreal in 1997. Paul tried to get him back to the Open the next two years but scheduling was an issue.

When Paul was told that Woods would return to Glen Abbey in 2000, he sat on the news for weeks.

He was 98 per cent sure that Tiger would play, but waited to make the announcement, noting it would be "devastating" if Woods had to later withdraw.

In the meantime, Paul went to work.

"I had my ops team order trailers and more toilets and more buses," he said. "I've got my staff thinking I'm crazy and I'm spending all this money and it's ridiculous. I had thought of everything. I did a press release up a month ahead of time that Tiger was going to come.

"I gave it our communications guy at the time and he just laughed at me. I said, 'Just hold this and let's hope we get to press the 'send' button.'"

Later that summer, Paul finally let a group of staff members in on the news. He told them they couldn't say anything until it was officially announced but that it would be a once-in-a-lifetime situation.

"Everyone is positive but everyone is apprehensive, saying he's not going to come here," Paul said.

When Woods and Steinberg called about two weeks out to confirm plans and hotel bookings, Paul knew it was locked in.

"You've got to remember at that time, he had just won three majors," Paul said. "The guy was unbelievable."

Paul eventually told his communications staffer to send the news release. The executive team was told to get ready.

"I never thought that the response would happen the way it did," Paul recalled Wednesday from Burlington, Ont. "Within a half hour, there's two (news) helicopters flying over Glen Abbey.

"There's media requests that you could do for the next 15 days. People from around the world — primarily Canadians and Americans — were calling to get tickets."

The six incoming phone lines to the main switchboard were overwhelmed. A bank of 20 phones had to be hooked up quickly to handle the volume.

"For the next four days, all we did was answer phones," Paul said.

When tournament week arrived, excitement levels were at a fever pitch.

"When he rolled in, it was like God arrived," Paul said. "He was just powerful. He just had this aura about him that was just significant. You knew at the time he was just coming to win."

And win, he did.

Woods hit a famous six-iron from wet sand on the 18th hole — a stunning 218-yard approach over water — to set up a birdie and his ninth PGA Tour win of the season.

Highlights aside, Paul also has fond memories of the more casual moments from that week. One night, he took Woods to a nearby steakhouse for a quick dinner.

Other patrons noticed that an uber-celebrity was in their midst, but respectfully gave him his space and let him enjoy the meal.

"I remember him saying to me, 'If I'm in America, I'm getting hounded. This is like, freaky,'" Paul said. "But in a positive way for him. It was interesting for him."

Woods would close with a 7-under-par 65 on a damp, grey final round that weekend. His 22-under 266 total left him one shot ahead of Grant Waite.

"To have him play, to have him win and to have him compete — both young and during his peak — was pretty special to all of us in Canada," Paul said.

"I'll just never forget it. It just was a big part of the Canadian Open."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2021.

With files from The Associated Press. Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

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