Tiger says game is progressing
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) -- The one shot that got so much attention during practice 10 years ago at Pebble Beach was a 4-iron that Tiger Woods hit so high, so straight, so flush that it landed softly near the pin on a brick-hard green at the par...
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) -- The one shot that got so much attention during practice 10 years ago at Pebble Beach was a 4-iron that Tiger Woods hit so high, so straight, so flush that it landed softly near the pin on a brick-hard green at the par-3 12th.
That wasn't the case Tuesday at the U.S. Open.
There is not much about Woods that looks the same as it once did.
"Tiger!" he muttered to himself as his 4-iron sailed weakly to the left of the 12th green, closer to the gallery than the pin.
On another chilly and overcast morning on the Monterey Peninsula, Woods hit two drives on the 13th -- one left into a bunker, the other in the fairway -- for his final shots of the day. His caddie retrieved the balls and followed Woods through an opening in the fence, into a van and back to the driving range. The course was too crowded, the practice round taking too long.
Nothing is comparable, in so many ways, to the last U.S. Open he played at Pebble Beach.
Ten years ago, Woods arrived at Pebble having won 12 times in the previous nine months. This year, he has finished only 13 rounds in the previous seven months. He was the overwhelming favorite in 2000, as he was at just about every tournament. This year, British bookmaker Williams Hill lists him as co-favorite with Masters champion Phil Mickelson at 8-1.
The only thing particularly sharp about Woods was his tongue when a reporter asked about the status of his marriage.
"That's none of your business," Woods barked back.
If there is any comfort about this U.S. Open for the world's No. 1 player, it's his track record at Pebble Beach. He won the PGA Tour event in February with a five-shot rally in the final round, then sent shock waves through the golfing world with a game that was close to flawless. On a course in which no other player came close to breaking par, Woods finished at 12-under 272 to win by 15 shots.
"That was really a wake-up call for a lot of guys," said Ernie Els, who played in the final round with Woods that week. "A lot of guys started changing their game. And a lot of guys took their physical fitness to another level. And 10 years later, here we are."
Mickelson is as great of a threat as ever, with a chance to replace Woods atop the world rankings this week. Els is two-time winner on the PGA Tour this year, as is Jim Furyk. The hottest player might be Lee Westwood, a runner-up at the Masters, no worse than third in his last three majors, and a winner last week in Tennessee.
Even so, the close competition is equally attributed to Woods.
After five months off while coping with the fallout from his extramarital affairs, Woods tied for fourth at the Masters in a remarkable performance. The three tournaments since then have been anything but remarkable. He missed the cut at Quail Hollow. He was in the middle of the pack at The Players Championship when he withdrew from the final round with a neck injury. He was just another player at Muirfield Village two weeks ago when he tied for 19th at the Memorial.
And now comes the U.S. Open, the scene of most dominant performance in major championship history, with nothing but questions about how Woods will perform.
One streak over, Westwood looks for major title
It's only a matter of time before Lee Westwood wins a major -- or so the theory goes.
They used to say that about Phil Mickelson. He's won four.
They've also said that, at different times, about Colin Montgomerie, Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott and a slew of others. Those are much different stories.
Heading into the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, Westwood holds the title of "Best Player to Never Win a Major," ranked third in the world and making a run at shedding that title almost every time he tees it up at one of the world's biggest tournaments.
Like many of those who've had that albatross hanging around their necks in the past, Westwood insists all the pressure comes from within, not the outside.
"The main challenge is fulfilling my own expectations," he said Tuesday. "And especially over the last couple of years, I've been putting myself in a position to win a major and feel like I ought to be expected to win a major now."
He finished second at the Masters this year, tied for third at the British and the PGA last year and finished third at the U.S. Open two years ago. In two of those tournaments, Westwood was one putt away from making a playoff: Against Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines, he knew the stakes; against Tom Watson and Stewart Cink at Turnberry, he didn't.