Sports Outside the Beltway

‘Rusty’ Tiger Fires 68, 1 Off Open Lead

Tiger Woods came into the 2008 U.S. Open not having played competitive golf in months while recovering from major knee surgery. The rest of the field didn’t have a chance.

There was no limping into the weekend for Tiger Woods. In fact, he put on a near record-setting display at the U.S. Open that may have left the rest of the field feeling hobbled. Pouring in birdies from distances great and small, Woods tamed Torrey Pines, shooting 5-under 30 over his final nine holes in the second round Friday to end at 2-under par. That was one stroke behind Stuart Appleby and tied with Rocco Mediate and Robert Karlsson.

Poor guys.

Tiger Woods 2008 U.S. Open Tree Shot Photo Tiger Woods hits from the rough on the first fairway during the second round of the US Open championship at Torrey Pines Golf Course on Friday, June 13, 2008 in San Diego. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

“People always ask me, ‘Who’s the favorite?’” Mediate said. “Well, of course, he’s the favorite. Of course he is. A lot of people said, ‘Well, he’s not going to win because he’s had, whatever, a thousand weeks off. But he’s different. It’s not the same.”

Playing in his first tournament since knee surgery after the Masters, Woods hardly looked like someone rounding back into shape, at least not at the end. He started on the back, and after an up-and-down nine holes, things turned around immediately. He made five birdies and finished one shot off the U.S. Open record for lowest nine-hole score, last accomplished by Vijay Singh in 2003. He finished the day with a 3-under 68.

“I felt if I could play well, could get back to even par, I could get back into the championship,” Woods said. “Then all of the sudden, I started raining ‘em in from everywhere.”

He’s just not like the other golfers. Or any other man to ever play this game. His opponents are resigned to the fact that, if he’s playing anywhere close to his best, he’s simply going to win.

“It’s just a matter of playing golf. He wants to go play golf, we want to go play golf,” Appleby said. “And I’ll be doing my best to accidentally throw a club towards his sore knee. It will be an accident, of course.”

Heh. I’m not sure Tiger couldn’t shoot par hopping on one leg.

But really, how to stop what looks like an unstoppable march toward victory?

Woods is in search of his 14th major win and his first U.S. Open since 2002. His seven closest pursuers (OK, so Appleby isn’t officially a ‘pursuer’) have combined for one: the PGA championship won by Davis Love III more than a decade ago.

He’ll soon be looking for his 15th major, methinks.

Update(Bill Jempty)- I had already written a long piece on how the US Open, when I saw James beat me to it. I’ll share some of my take. While Tiger is one shot out of the lead with 36 holes, I’m not ready to give him this tournament yet.

Only a week ago we had a similar storyline forming at the LPGA. #1 woman golfer Lorena Ochoa looking for her third straight major, was up by one shot going into the weekend. A golf writer I like, blogged that only the weather looked likely to slow Ochoa’s march to victory. Instead, a tour rookie(Who had finished second twice already in 08) named Yani Tseng derailed the Ochoa Grand Slam express. What’s to stop the a similar surprise from happening this weekend?

Second round leader Stuart Appleby has never won a major. The closest he has ever come was Appleby taking part in the 4-way playoff(along with Steve Elkington and Thomas Levet) at the 2002 British Open won by Ernie Els. Other than that Appleby’s only shot legit shot at a major was the 2007 Masters. He led going into the final round before finishing T7th. Appleby has won eight PGA tournaments in his career. An argument can be made for he being the best player on tour without a major championship triumph. Off the course Appleby has a interesting story. Next month will mark 10 years since his wife Renay was killed in a fluke accident while the couple was in London England. After several years spent grieving, Appleby married again and has at least two children with his new wife.

Appleby is a good player, but in spite of his having the lead he is being overshadowed by Tiger at present. The same can be said for the other golfers who are near the top of the leaderboard. Which include former major champions Davis Love III, Ernie Els, Geoff Ogilvy, plus more than solid international golfers Miguel Jimenez, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Robert Allenby. All of these players stand within two shots of Tiger and three of Appleby.

Note- I have always liked Rocco Mediate since I watched him in person play in a PGA tournamenet about 20 years ago. Rocco, who is one shot back and tied with Tiger, would be my sentimental favorite. As much as I like Rocco, I know his chances aren’t very good on the weekend even if you took Tiger out of the equation.

I didn’t think Tiger would win this week, and with him standing one shot out of the lead, the chances are strong I’ll be wrong. What I’m trying to say is Tiger isn’t a shoo-in to win the tournament.

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