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If you’re a pure fan of the pro game of golf (like I am) you can’t help but appreciate the significance of the Tiger Woods win at The Farmers Championship at Torrey Pines, this past week. Why? Because if you watched any of his play you saw a lot of shots that looked like the old Tiger and that means that this year’s PGA Tour season could be something very entertaining. With Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods #s 1 and 2 in the world rankings respectively, there could be a real dogfight all season during the majors and FedEx Cup. The 2013 season is shaping up to be something really special, especially since right behind Tiger and Rory are Dustin Johnson, Brent Snedeker and a ton of other great golfers from the US and European Tours.
To get a perspective of you fast time seems to fly by sometimes, here’s a flashback from Tiger’s last win at Torrey Pines, almost 5 short years ago at the US Open in June 2008. The article that follows was written after Tiger Woods won his 14th major tournament by beating Rocco Mediate in the Monday playoff, then announcing the nature of his injuries and "out for the season" status. Like everyone else, I had no clue that during next year’s Thanksgiving, Tiger’s world would turn upside down and his golf game would go with it. If last year’s wins at Arnie’s and Jack’s tournaments and this years are any indication, it looks like Tiger Woods is ready to win some more majors and continue his all out assault on Jack Nicklaus’ major record, plus all the others he doesn’t already have.
Trivia Question: How did the golf course Torrey Pines get it’s name?
Answer: The pine trees on the course are called Torrey Pines
Anyone who says golf on TV is boring, doesn't watch it or wasn't watching this year's US Open, or both. As I'm finishing this story, the Monday playoff between Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate is already over a week old. All too often major sporting events with this much hype and anticipation, end with disappointing outcomes. Just like most of the major golf tournaments in my recent memory this one was filled with drama, as I was glued to my seat until the final putt.
If that wasn't enough, how about the startling news revealed after the tournament about Tiger's injuries and "out for the season" status? Hey, I'll bet that professional golf writers around the world have already written millions of words about the announcement, the planned surgery and details about the trickle down of effect of this stunning set of circumstances, that rocked the world of golf. As I'm not a professional writer I wrote this through the eyes of an amateur, with my own spin on what I saw.
Here's a few of the many words I read that showed up in my email inbox the following day, that I thought summed up the 2008 US Open rather nicely. Regardless of who you were rooting for, you have to appreciate the history that we're experiencing: "Words no longer do justice to Tiger Woods. First, his winning of the U.S. Open in his first tournament since knee surgery - and without having walked 18 holes of golf in two months since that surgery - was impressive enough. But then to learn that he actually had a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the knee, plus two stress fractures in the left leg?"
The 2008 US Open will be remembered for it's high drama, uncertainty and doubt until the last putt was struck, as Tiger Woods finally prevailed. That statement is actually true for both regulation play and the playoff. As a golfer, this tournament spoke volumes about how exciting and dramatic major golf tournaments are. In the game of golf, just being able to hang in there and not crumble when shots are not going as planned is difficult enough. The ability to grind, re-group and post a score that's still better than most, is a skill only a few in the game have ever had. Add to that the circumstances around Tiger's injuries and this one will be remembered as TRULY SPECIAL in golf history. There's no doubt it will go down as one of the greatest performances by any athlete in any sport.
As a viewer I felt similar drama watching this year's Players, the Masters, last year's British and US Opens, plus most of the majors in recent memory. To me, "golf is great theatre" is more than just a slogan, it's a great description. The majors during the last few years have lived up to the hype, but there's just more interest when Tiger's in the hunt. He's proven time and time again that anything can happen when he's in a position to win and don't ever believe it's over, till it's over.
There's no secret I love watching championship golf on TV. For me, when the coverage starts late in the afternoon lasting through prime-time, it's an added bonus. As if it were scripted by NBC on Father's Day night, the final pair came to the 71st hole with both players (Woods and Westwood) tied for second place and the leader (Mediate) up ahead on the 72nd hole, with the tournament still up for grabs. I can't recall a major tournament where the last three players to finish all had a chance to win like this. At 8:52 PM EST, Tiger had the stage all to himself. On this occasion, he needed the entire hole to birdie the 18th. As we know by now, he rolled in a 12-footer to tie Rocco, forcing an 18 hole Monday playoff. I watched it all unfold. As usual, it did not disappoint.
How did Tiger even get to that final putt to tie? Let's rewind back to Friday. On his first nine holes he was slopping it up at 3-over par. Fortunately, a few over par still keeps you within reach at the US Open. He managed to hang in there with the help of an eagle on #13, sandwiched in-between four bogies, playing what's described as military golf, hitting it left, right, left, right... all over the course. On many shots it was clearly visible that Tiger's knee was hurting, BADLY.
On his back nine (which was actually the front nine of the course because they played the back nine first) it didn't start off any better, as Tiger's drive on hole #1 ended up next to a tree and just off the cart path. Because he was standing on the cart path he was entitled to a free drop, but because the ball could easily have ended up behind the tree, he decided to play it from where it lied. There was just enough room between the ball and cart path to hit it cleanly. The announcers poured it on thick, pointing out that Tiger wears metal spikes and the worry was that his leg would slip, injuring himself worse. In typical fashion, he not only hit it clean, he flushed it right onto the green and made the birdie putt. This was the spark that turned on the light switch, as he made three more threes and added another birdie for a score of thirty. As expected he found a way to enter moving day Saturday on page one of the leader board.
During the third round Rocco Mediate was clearly the best player in the field. He entered his back nine with a three shot lead and six shots over Tiger, who struggled with a two over-par 37 on his front nine. On the back nine it was complete role reversal, with Rocco faltering at two over-par and Tiger turning on the switch again, shooting a 3-under par 33.
After his second shot on #13 almost flew into the hole on a fly, it ended up over 60 feet away. If you're looking for a turning point, this would be a good place to start, as Tiger made the eagle putt. It was a tough down-hiller with a big break left, that was motoring until it landed DEAD CENTER in the cup. On the par three 17th, he missed the green with his tee shot, then chipped his second shot high into the air from an uphill lie on the side of the bunker. It landed a few inches from the hole on a fly, then hopped up and hit the pin DEAD CENTER, and dropped straight down into the hole for a birdie. Even Tiger had to laugh as his shot looked like it was going at least a few feet past before the hole swallowed it. This put him one shot behind Lee Westwood, the leader at that time. He then reached the par 5 18th hole in two. His eagle putt was a sharp breaking left to right slider from the top of a ridge, so it was going to be fast. DEAD CENTER is the only way to describe how the ball entered the hole. Now Tiger had a one stroke lead entering the final round and we all know his record when leading after three rounds in a major. Here's a hint (he's 13 & 0).
Remember the original Wizard of Oz movie, where the first part was in black and white and the rest of the movie was in color? In comparison, the black and white portion of this year's US Open was Mediate's first 54 holes. The color came on starting when Tiger went double-bogey, bogey on Sunday's first two holes and Westwood also began to slide. Rocco was now in the lead and only Bob May in the 2000 PGA has challenged Tiger like this in the final round of a major.
Up until now, the US Open was a story about Tiger Woods, his struggle and his determination, playing on one leg. Early on Sunday, the storyline was becoming more of a fairy tale about a journeyman pro golfer named Rocco, who everyone loved, but who hadn't won a pro tournament in six years. In fact the last and only time he was this close in a major was in the 2006 Masters. Entering the 15th hole on Saturday, Rocco found himself right in the thick of it, then he slipped and injured is back. If you remember him yukking it up in the TV booth in early 2007, this is why. He spent all last year rehabbing and this year needed to play his way into the US Open as one of the low qualifiers, before getting this opportunity. Like a heavyweight boxer with a shot at the title (just like in Rocky) Rocco knew this was probably his last chance to beat the best, and he gave it everything he had. Unfortunately, he was up against possibly the greatest the game of golf has ever seen.
Will Tiger Woods break Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors and every other major record on the books? Will he go down as the best there ever was? OR will injuries prevent him from reaching these goals? What do you think? I welcome your comments. Please feel free to reply on my website “Ask ME a golf question” and post your comments.