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The Runner-Up

Like the image that reappears each March of North Carolina State basketball coach Jim Valvano rushing around the basketball court looking for someone to hug and the October tradition of seeing Kirk Gibson rounding the bases after his World Series home run, the August return of the PGA Championship brings us Tiger Woods pointing his ball into the hole 14 years ago at Valhalla.
It was a pure Tiger moment, a master in his prime, so sure of himself that it seemed he was willing the ball into the hole on his way to winning the third leg of what would become the Tiger Slam.
It was Bob May who took Tiger there.
“It doesn’t feel like it was 14 years ago,” May said last week.
May is 45 now and he hasn’t played competitive golf for a long time. It’s his wish to play again, to feel the heat, maybe not like he did that Sunday on the outskirts of Louisville, Ky., but to get back to doing what he did so well for so long.
Back surgery in 2004 to relieve problems caused by spinal stenosis has put May in a state of perpetual recovery. He was bedridden for 10 weeks after having a portion of his spinal column “roto-rootered” to take pressure off his nerves.
Woods had a surgical procedure on his back in March and was playing the Tour again in less than four months, although he reinjured himself Sunday. May is going on a decade, waking up each morning to find out how his back feels, hoping it’s good enough to let him get another step closer to where he was.
With the PGA Championship returning to Valhalla for the first time since May and Woods waged their epic duel that culminated with Woods winning a three-hole playoff, May is, to use modern parlance, trending again.
In May’s world, though, that long-ago Sunday is never far away. “I get asked about it a few times a week,” he said.
May was on the phone from Hawaii, where he spent the month of July running his Bob May Golf Academy, teaching the game to anyone who’s interested. He works with beginners and he works with players chasing what May had when he was such a good junior player in California that his record was the one Woods chased.


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