Saturday, June 14, 2008

Tiger = Terrific!

Yes, it can sometimes be boring to watch a tournament in which Tiger Woods is competing as he seemingly always wins. Truth of the matter is though that he doesn't always win - he came in second in the Masters this year and due to injury he didn't play in the Players Championship or Memorial tournaments. Playing with an obvious hobble and wretching in pain with every shot hit with his driver, just him being out and playing at the U.S. Open was a remarkable accomplishment. After shooting a 30 on his final nine holes yesterday, he was only a shot off the lead at 2-under par at the midway point.

Today, Tiger struggled mightily all day to get the ball in the fairway, double-bogeying the first hole for the second time in three days. Through 12 holes, he was three strokes over par for round, and 1-over par for the tournament. With six holes left to play, he was five strokes behind Rocco Mediate who had gotten to 4-under par. And then came the Tiger Show: Part 74...

On the par-5 13th hole, another wayward drive somehow found a good lie on the rough that had been trampled down by the gallery. His second shot found the back fringe of the green some 65 feet away. Tiger rolled the long, right-to-left curling putt with a deft touch... as it approached the hole, it looked to have a chance. Sure enough it found the bottom of the cup. A bogey by Mediate on the same hole minutes later trimmed the margin to two strokes. A wayward drive by Tiger on 14 led to a bogey, to put him back down three. Mediate would stumble again on 15, with a double bogey that would cost him the lead. At one under par, he now was a stroke behind the steady Lee Westwood who made two birdies, a bogey and 15 pars in his round. With these developments, Tiger was still two strokes back. Mediate would bogey 16 to drop to even par. Suddenly, Westwood was the only player left in the field who was under par.

Tiger parred both 15 and 16, and then hit his tee shot into the left rough on 17. His approach to the green was well short, leaving him a tricky pitch from an awkward lie. Tiger hit his shot, and it looked right away like he hit it too hard. The ball landed only a few feet from the hole, bounced in the air and then on it's way down glanced off the flagstick and into to the cup for an improbable birdie. Westwood was being interviewed by NBC at the time, and the interviewer told him he was the only player under par and started to ask him about what it would be like to be the leader going into the final round of a major. The interviewer had to correct himself as word reached him that Tiger had birdied 17 to get to 1-under.

On the par-5 18th, Tiger was simply trying to do one thing: hit the fairway. Since he had been slicing his shots most of the day, he figured he would just play the slice with both his tee and approach shots. He grimaced in pain after hitting both shots, but as his approach stopped some 35 feet above the cup, you almost knew what was going to happen. Tiger hit the put well left of where announcer Johnny Miller seemed to think it should be hit. Nonetheless, the ball started tracking towards the hole... and once again found the bottom for another eagle! Tiger was finally in familiar territory: in the lead going into the final round of a major! If you didn't see it happening for yourself, you probably have believed it. Then again, with Tiger we've come to expect the unexpected. Three of the most amazing shots that I've EVER seen in the space of six holes. WOW!


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