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12:11PM

Tiger botches up a good round

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- The day was less than enthralling. Tiger Woods made a mess of things. Not as much of a mess as one of his playing partners, Padraig Harrington, but that might not be a good way of measuring a bad round.

There he was Friday morning, Tiger even par with four holes remaining. Even par in the U.S. Open, a tournament where par makes you a contender and sometimes makes you a champion.

That’s the sort of competition Tiger likes, where every shot is precious, and you have to work and grind and struggle -- and think.

But what Tiger was thinking when he finished on Friday what he started on Thursday probably was X-rated stuff. He played the final four holes double-bogey, bogey, par and bogey, coming in with a 4-over 74.

Harrington, with three doubles, shot 76, while the third member of the group, Angel Cabrera, like the other two players a multiple major champion, had 74.

It was only late morning and, because of a schedule revised by the rain, Tiger was done for the day.

“As of the way I feel now, no, I don’t want to go back out there right now,’’ Tiger said when some wondered if at the early hour, before 11 a.m. EDT, he wished he could get to a second round already shoved to Saturday.

“Probably would be a few clubs light,’’ he added, the implication being that Woods might have busted a couple of them in anger.

Done for the day, but hardly for the tournament. Even 10 shots behind.

What we’ve learned is you never quit on Tiger Woods because he never quits on himself. Remember when he overcame that seven-shot deficit on the back nine at Pebble Beach in the 2000 AT&T, catching a bewildered Matt Gogel? Remember when he was three down with five to play the first round of the 2008 Accenture match play and beat J.B. Holmes, 1 up?

So to declare Tiger Woods finished after he played only 18 holes in a major championship that, because of the weather forecast, might never finish is premature at best and presumptive at worst.

And yet there he was, back to even par in the 109th U.S. Open at Bethpage’s Black Course after a birdie on 15. There he was, a gallery of rowdy New Yorkers shouting their encouragement.

And then, whoops, there he was, losing four shots the last four holes.

“Well,’’ he said, “I wasn’t playing poorly. You know, that’s the thing. I was even par with four to go, and I was right there where I needed to be, and then two bad shots and a mud ball later, I’m four-over par.’’

Already there had been a double-bogey, but that was Thursday, in the deluge, before play mercifully was halted with Woods, Harrington and Cabrera on the seventh green. Tiger bogeyed seven when play resumed under clear skies at 7:40 Friday morning, but birdies at 11 and 14 had brought him back to even.

“That was kind of a goal,’’ Woods explained. The goal evaporated.

He hit a bad tee shot on the 459-yard 15th, described by one and all as the most difficult hole on the course. “But I had a great lie and went for it. Plugged it in the face, took a drop (a free one, because the ball was ruled as embedded), hit a decent pitch -- but I didn’t think it would come all the way back to my feet like that -- blocked the first putt and hit a bad second putt.’’

Woods is defending champion. He is trying to become the first repeat winner in 20 years, since Curtis Strange in 1988-89. Woods is the favorite. But after the first round, Woods is a good distance behind. Then again...

More rain is coming. More pressure will be building. More double-bogeys will be recorded.

Nothing is certain. The USGA, which announced Thursday it wouldn’t honor Thursday’s tickets, even though play was halted and didn’t resume, on Friday said it would allow those tickets to be used Monday. If there is play Monday. And it appears there will be play Monday. And maybe Tuesday.

“Overall,’’ said Woods, “the golf course is playing difficult. I’m just going to continue to do what I’m doing and hopefully clean up the round a little bit, drive the ball in the fairway and get a couple of breaks and not catch a mud ball. But if it dries out more, it will get worse.’’

Presumably Tiger Woods will get better. Presumably he won’t ruin a decent round by losing four shots to par in four holes.

He’s not giving up, not after one round of a major. He made a mess of things. He had two awful holes. Fifty hour holes remain. That’s more than enough for atonement. And victory.
9:59PM

SF Examiner: It's Tiger's U.S. Open to lose



By Art Spander
Special to The Examiner


FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Kobe one week, Tiger the next. From a large leather ball to a small dimpled one. From a hardwood court to soft fairways. From one champion to another.

The NBA playoffs, Kobe Bryant’s showcase, are done. The U.S. Open, Tiger Woods’ stage, is here, starting Thursday. What we got from Kobe — excellence, success — we’re expecting to get from Tiger.

“I like my chances in any major,” Tiger said Tuesday. We all like his chances.

The national championship, that’s what the Open is for golfers, a test of skill and will, an event of thick rough and high pressure where brains count no less than brawn.

“I just enjoy having to think your way around a golf course,” Tiger said.

This is the damp greenness of Long Island, 30 miles from Manhattan. This is where the Open went public for the first time when the 2002 Open was held at a muni, if you can call Bethpage Black a muni when it has a sign warning it is “An extremely difficult course which we recommend only for highly skilled golfers.”

This is where Tiger, or as crowds here pronounce it, “Ti-guh,” won and very likely could win again.

Some asked him, “In your opinion, who do you think at this point is the best golfer of all-time and why?”

“Jack,” responded Woods. He didn’t feel obligated to add, “Nicklaus.”

And Tiger? “He’s got 18. I’m at 14.”

Meaning major pro championships. Kobe is at four, meaning NBA championships, and Tiger, the Lakers fan, who grew up in Southern California, identifies with Bryant.

“His work ethic is phenomenal,” Tiger said of Kobe, as certainly Kobe could have said about Tiger.

“The hours he puts in, from just shooting on his own,” Woods pointed out, “to all the film study. Look at how he guides his team.

“That’s steady. That’s knowing the offenses, the defense you’re going against, basically all the chess pieces.”

That’s preparation, something of which Tiger prides himself.

Woods could become the first person ever with 10 U.S. Golf Association championships. He has three junior amateurs, three amateurs and three Opens, a total of nine.

Woods also could become the first to win back-to-back Opens in 20 years, since Curtis Strange in 1988-89 and the second in 70 years, Ben Hogan finishing first in 1950-51.

“Generally,” Tiger said of why the repeat is so rare, “this is the hardest major we face all year.”

Tiger took the 2008 Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego, also a muni, on a left knee so painful he winced after every shot. Surgery on the anterior-cruciate ligament a few days later kept him out of the game eight months and there were struggles after his return in February.

But he won the Memorial, Jack’s tournament, a week and a half ago, hitting every fairway from the tee in the final round, and Nicklaus not-so-boldly predicted Woods would win this Open.

Next year, the Open returns to Pebble Beach. In 2012, it’s at San Francisco’s Olympic Club. Every Open is different. Every Open is the same.

“You’ve got to grind it out and make pars,” Tiger said. “How you do is up to you.”

Tiger will find a way. As in another sport, Kobe found a way.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at typoes@aol.com.

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http://www.sfexaminer.com/sports/Spander-Its-Tigers-US-Open-to-lose-48214222.html
Copyright 2009 SF Newspaper Company
9:22AM

RealClearSports: We Can Stop Worrying about Tiger and Roger

By Art Spander


The questions have been answered. The shots have been made, chips from the edge of the green, forehands from the back of the court. We can stop worrying about Tiger and Roger. 

All is right with the world. Summer is coming on. Tiger and Roger have come back, as if we ever should have doubted they would. Dial up another Sinatra song on the iPod or the radio. Hoist a glass of ice tea. Back the ’55 Chevy out of the garage.

We’ve returned to the good, old days, 2009 version.

So quick to lose faith, particularly in Roger Federer. We knew Tiger Woods eventually would be there. It takes time to recover from ACL surgery. The tee shots would return. The confidence would return.

We merely wondered when. Now we know.

Roger Federer was different, in our minds at least. Men’s tennis, so long his domain, suddenly was in the grasp of Rafael Nadal.

When Nadal beat Federer in that marvelous Wimbledon final last July, when Federer’s streak of Grand Slam tournaments without a victory had extended to three, we decided the torch had been passed.

A champion is more than the game he plays. A champion is a winner, able to reach into the past and when the moment arises, when proof is required, regain the brilliance he or she once displayed.

Federer did exactly that during a French Open that, with the first-week upset of Nadal, who previously never had lost in the tournament, presented an opportunity.

Champion that he is, Federer grabbed that chance and carried it to history, becoming one of six players ever to win all four Slams, the Australian, the French, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

In tennis and golf, familiarity does not breed contempt but rather comfort. If Roger Federer is hoisting a trophy with tears in his eyes, if Tiger Woods is balling a fist and shaking it in triumph, then everything again makes sense.

Woods’ victory seemingly didn’t mean quite as much as that of his colleague, with whom Tiger shares respect and Nike and Gillette endorsements. Or maybe it meant more.

No major title but a giant step forward, a verification that on a tough course, Muirfield Village, Tiger could drive straight and long and rally on the final day as he had done so often.

One magnificent round, one reassuring finish, and like that Woods became the favorite for the U.S. Open next week at Bethpage, where he won America’s golfing championship in 2002.

“I knew I could do this,’’ Tiger said Sunday after his victory in the Memorial, a victory that came maybe half a day after Federer’s in Paris.

“I was close to winning, but the game wasn’t quite there when I needed it on a Sunday,’’ Tiger explained. “I rectified that.’’

The way Roger Federer rectified his problem, filled in the blank.

So much in common those two. Each has a cap with his own initials on the front. Each has a claim on being the best ever in his sport.

Federer’s win was his 14th in a Grand Slam, equaling the record of Pete Sampras. Tiger has 14 majors, four behind Jack Nicklaus, who as fate and fable would have it conducts the Memorial event and was a spectator at the final green.

Tiger is 33, and has many more years remaining. Federer is 27 and has enough time left. But what they accomplish from now on cannot mean any more than what they have accomplished, particularly on Sunday.

For Federer it was overcoming an obstacle that two weeks earlier the experts never believed he never could overcome, not with Nadal, who had beaten him on clay repeatedly, in waiting. Then Rafa departed and the gates, and heavens, opened for Roger.

For Woods it was an irritation. He hadn’t been the Tiger who was so reliable before that knee operation last June. There had been a victory, in March, but there also had been a few last-day misdeeds. He was grumpy from his lack of progress. We were bewildered, even though medical experts said healing could not be rushed.

Tiger’s U.S. Open is a week away. Roger’s Wimbledon is in two weeks. Where will they be in another month? Receiving more accolades after receiving more trophies? Where will their sports be?

Nicklaus suggests Tiger will be a winner, which is no great shock. Federer’s achievement on clay suggests Roger will be a winner on the grass at Wimbledon, where he had five straight titles from 2003 through 2007.

We can only anticipate. These good, old days are very up to date indeed.
As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And he has recently been honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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http://www.realclearsports.com/articles/2009/06/tiger_and_roger_make_things_ri.html
© RealClearSports 2009 
11:31AM

RealClearSports: There’s No Mystery About Tiger

By Art Spander

The problem for the moment is not that Tiger Woods isn’t the same. It’s that we are the same. We keep thinking this is the Tiger of a couple years past, maybe even the Tiger who was a miracle worker last summer. But it isn’t.

It couldn’t be. And it won’t be for a while.

The surgery Tiger underwent last June a few days after he somehow performed the impossible, winning the U.S. Open on one leg, the reconstruction of the anterior cruciate ligament of the left knee, necessitates months of recovery.

In an athlete’s case, years.

Yet Woods is playing demanding, big-time golf 11 months in, perhaps against own best plans. And because Tiger didn’t win the Masters, and even more significantly, faded in The Players despite being paired with the collapsing leader, we’re dumbfounded.

In truth, we’re merely dumb.

Dr. Lanny Johnson, a pioneering orthopedic specialist who created the tools used in Tiger’s surgery, in September advised Woods not to return too quickly.

“Other forces will try and hurry Tiger back,” Johnson told the Daily Telegraph of London, “but he should take it easy… If you tear your cruciate ligament in football, you can play within a year, and with full confidence within two years. Based on this, and the recovery period of other athletes, I am guessing that Tiger will need two years.”

But he hasn’t had even one year. He won the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in March, only the third tournament he entered following the eight-month absence. In the five stroke-play events in which he’s competed, starting at Doral in mid-March, there’s no finish worse than ninth.

We want more, because we’ve known more. He wants more, although he understands why he doesn’t have more.

“I didn’t have the pop in my body, nor should I,” Woods said after coming in fourth at Quail Hollow, another place where the old Tiger, the pre-surgery Tiger, would have won, but this Tiger could not win.

“It takes time for anyone who has had reconstruction to come back and get the speed back and the agility and all those different things. Most athletes take over a year to get back. I’ve been able to get back sooner because of the nature of my sport.”

In which there is no running or leaping or contact. But in which there is considerable stress. Tiger’s not hitting his drives nearly as far. After the Masters, Phil Mickelson, who was with Tiger the final round at Augusta, joked with the Associated Press, “I had to keep waiting for him to hit.”

Tiger’s never hit his drives that straight. Now, shorter and even more erratic, he’s playing a different game than he played back then. The marvelous recovery shots – under trees, out of bunkers – still are there. The worry is he’s hitting one seemingly on every hole.

While Woods was gone, as Nike emphasized in its lighthearted commercial of its stable of golfers, others improved. They literally could look down a fairway instead of figuratively over their shoulders.

The others gained confidence. Surely, Tiger lost some, along with strength.

That Woods comprehends his own flaws doesn’t mean he is accepting of them. The anger at a poor shot was apparent. And after a round that failed to satisfy his own standards, Tiger cut short media time to rush to the practice ground.

What Tiger taught us in his greatness, and what should not be forgotten in his struggles, is he never is to be underestimated.

Tiger missed the cut at the 2006 U.S. Open after a nine-week layoff following his father’s death, the only time as a pro Woods didn’t play all four rounds in a major. While the doubters suggested he might be slipping, Tiger leaped back with victories in the British Open and PGA Championship.

It is a cliché now, Tiger insisting he wouldn’t enter any tournament unless he believed he would win. That doesn’t separate him from the rest, from Phil Mickelson or Geoff Ogilvy or, considering The Players, Henrik Stenson. These guys think they’ll finish first every time out.

You don’t modify your thinking, even if you have to modify your swing. The TPC Sawgrass Course, with its mounds and lakes and pines, always has been a challenge to Woods. He won there, won The Players, in 2001. But only then.

A course always troublesome for Tiger, a knee still far from totally recovered, and Woods, instead of a sub-par final round and a win, has a one-over par final round and eighth place.

He isn’t the same. But he will be. After all, he’s Tiger Woods.
As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And he has recently been honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.


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© RealClearSports 2009
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