News & Opinion

Woods finds Open magic to be fleeting

The score is the same. Tiger Woods shot par 71 on the third day of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. We could be talking about 2000 instead of 2019

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The score is the same. Tiger Woods shot par 71 on the third day of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. We could be talking about 2000 instead of 2019.

But clearly, we are not. Clearly, they are not the same. On moving day along the central California coast Saturday, Woods moved in the wrong direction. Nineteen years ago, his 71 came off back-to-back rounds in the 60s. It allowed a 24-year-old Woods to stay right where he was at 8 under par, blowing the doors off the championship with a 10-stroke lead.

This time, as before, a Saturday 71 allowed Woods to stay where he was. Problem is, in the third round of the 119th U.S. Open, others were headed north. When the day was over, when Woods put the finishing crutches on an ineffective walk with a consolation birdie at 18. He was even par through 54 holes and 11 shots behind leader Gary Woodland, with 21 players between Woods and the lead (scores).

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Tiger Woods attracts fans of all stripes to the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, and his presence in Japan this week will boost the Zozo Championship and the fall's Asia Swing.

© USGA/MICHAEL REAVES
It’s a jungle out there, as Tiger Woods discovers during the 3rd round of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

That happens when you bogey two of the first three, two of the easiest holes in the course. “I got off to an awful start, and clawed it around,” said Woods, who made five birdies and five bogeys. “But I still gave myself a chance for tomorrow, which is positive.

“And we'll see what the weather forecast is … There are a lot of guys ahead of me right now. Seems like everyone is doing what I was supposed to do earlier, which is play 2 to 4 under par through the first seven.”

The positive talk is understandable. Woods will wear red today and put on the brave face. And those who value readership and ratings will play along, even endorse that “chance.”

But reality is more sobering and revealing. Woods’ storybook at Augusta allowed imaginations to run wild. The Masters was his first major victory in 11 years, and it re-lit the pilot light. He moved to 15 major titles, three behind Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18.

Suddenly, anything seemed possible. The next major on the schedule was the PGA Championship at Bethpage, where Woods went wire to wire in winning the 2002 U.S. Open. Then came Pebble Beach, which didn’t even seem fair.

In 2000, Woods won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by 15 strokes. The field whimpered off, covered in dust. “You look at all my angles,” Woods said this week, reminiscing. “I did not hit every green. I did not hit every fairway, but I always had the proper angle.

“And it gave me the best chance to get up and down. I poured everything in. Hopefully I can have one of those weeks on the greens again.”

In the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, Woods arrived with his career tied behind his back. Just seven months earlier, he slammed into the fire hydrant in front of his home in Windermere, Fla. His personal life was in shambles, his golf life was disheveled and when he teed off on the Monterey Peninsula, he had played just 13 rounds all year.

Yet, on Saturday, he fired a 66 to climb into third place, and he wound up tied for fourth. He could do it blindfolded.

So, it was only natural to forget all that has transpired. You couldn’t help but believe that Woods, even at age 43, even with all the surgeries and all the inconsistencies, could go on a run. In 2000-01, he won at Pebble, won at Augusta, and won all four of the majors.

You couldn’t help but think it: Look out, Jack. Tiger’s back.

But Woods never was a factor at Bethpage, missing the cut. Later, he conceded that he just wasn’t able to properly brace for another major championship so soon.

“If I feel good, then I feel like I can play any venue,” said Woods, who did not play any of the four tournaments between the Masters and PGA. “It's just that when I'm stiff and not moving as well, it becomes a little bit more difficult.”

Now a month later, despite being listed as a favorite here, the Prince of Pebble Beach has not had the touch. The magic that he found at Augusta is missing, replaced by inaccuracies, indiscretions and KP tape.

“When it's cold like this, everything is achy,” said Woods, the tape visible on the back of his neck. “It's just part of the deal… Let me put it this way: I feel every shot I hit. I think that's always going to be the place from here going forward.”

It should make us appreciate what Woods accomplished at Augusta. It should make us realize that it just doesn’t happen like that, not for a young man, not for a player late in the game. It should make us reflect on what really happened back in 2000-01, and how it isn’t likely to happen again.

Tiger Woods gave us something to remember a few weeks ago. Let’s not make it something to expect.

Dan O’Neill, who covered golf for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from 1989 to 2017, is an editorial consultant on golf for Fox Sports. His articles have appeared in publications such as Golfweek, Golf World, Golf.com and The Memorial magazine. Email: dan13153@gmail.com; Twitter: @WWDOD