(Reuters) – Tiger Woods played the final round at the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego on Sunday unaware his good friend Kobe Bryant had died in a helicopter crash.
The news broke while Woods was in the early part of his round, and though it spread around Torrey Pines quickly, caddie Joe LaCava refrained from telling his boss during the round.
LaCava finally gave the news to Woods as the pair were walking from the 18th green to the scoring room.
“Excuse me!” a clearly shocked Woods said without breaking stride.
Woods, a lifelong Lakers fan, emerged about five minutes later and briefly signed autographs before speaking with the media.
“Joey realized that I was locked into trying to (win and) didn’t want to distract me with this type of news,” Woods told reporters.
“I didn’t really understand why people in the gallery were saying ‘Do it for Mamba’ but now I understand.”
‘Black Mamba’ was Bryant’s nickname.
Woods, at 44 three years older than Bryant, was still processing the news of his friend’s death. The pair are among a select few sportsmen famous enough to be universally known by only their first name.
“He came in the league and I turned pro right around the same time and we had our 20-year run together,” said 15-times major champion Woods.
“It’s a shocker to everyone, unbelievably sad, and one of the more tragic days.
“Life is very fragile as we all know. You can be gone at any given time and we have to appreciate the moments that we have. I just can’t imagine what his family’s going through right now.”
Woods said that from a playing aspect he would most remember Bryant’s fire on the court.
“He burned so competitively hot.
“He brought it each and every night, on both ends of the floor. Not many guys can say that. He’d lock up on D (defense). Obviously he was dominant on offensive side.
“I grew up a die-hard Laker fan, always have been my entire life, and he was part of the most historic franchise in all of the NBA.”
The pair often worked out together in recent years and Woods enjoyed picking the brain of someone from a different sport.
“We really connected on more the mental side of it, the prep, how much it takes to be prepared.
“I don’t have to react like he does in my sport. We can take our time, but you’ve still got to pay attention to the details and that’s what he did better than probably any other player in NBA history.
“He liked and enjoyed retired life, but he missed being competitive and being on that court.”
Woods finished equal ninth at nine-under-par 279, six strokes behind winner Marc Leishman.
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; editing by Richard Pullin)