PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The crowd lining the ninth hole some 100 yards short of the seaside green at Pebble Beach couldn’t have been more pumped as Tiger Woods blasted out of a fairway bunker and his ball came to rest in the rough just in front of them.
No matter that Woods would have a difficult – and ultimately unsuccessful – task of trying to save par on his last hole of the day. This was their chance to see greatness up close, with the only downside being they weren’t supposed to use their cellphones to record the moment at hand.
That might not have been such a bad thing. Because there wasn’t much memorable about the shot or a second round Friday in the U.S. Open that left Woods fuming about missed opportunities.
“I’m a little hot right now,” Woods said after emerging from the scoring trailer off the ninth green. “I just signed my card about a minute ago. So need a little time to cool down a little bit.”
Woods would bogey the hole after missing yet another putt, the second of two straight bogeys to finish a round of 1-over 72 that left him well off the lead. That’s enough to make any player upset, especially Woods because the expectations – his and others – are always going to be higher.
He thrilled everyone in golf by winning the Masters two months ago to break an 11-year drought in the majors. The chatter among casual fans was that Woods was back to his dominating ways, and one bettor in Las Vegas even wagered $100,000 that he would win all four majors this year.
But this isn’t 19 years ago, when Woods romped to a historic 15-shot win in the Open here, then won the next three majors to hold all four at the same time. This isn’t even April, when he somehow managed to separate himself from a crowd of players on the back nine and win his fifth green jacket in a memorable moment at Augusta National.
A second day of inconsistent play in the U.S. Open made one thing clear for all except the most rabid fan boys – and girls.
Woods isn’t going to win every major, not even close. Fact is, the odds are he won’t win another for some time – if ever.
That’s not a knock on Woods, who is certainly the greatest player of his generation and in the conversation when it comes to the greatest of all time. In his prime he won tournaments by bunches, overpowering courses and intimidating everyone playing against him.
But he’s 43 now, and no longer blasts it by everyone. The putts that used to go in automatically don’t anymore, something that was more than evident Friday when hit 13 greens and made only one birdie.
Meanwhile, new power players keep emerging to challenge him like they were manufactured in a factory somewhere.
“How do you compete against kids that were born – for me, born in the 2000s?” Woods asked earlier in the week. “They were born after I won this damn tournament.”
Actually, there is only one player in the field born after Woods won here in 2000. That would be Michael Thorbjornsen, a 17-year-old amateur who was two shots behind Woods after two rounds.
Still, the huge throngs who crowded into Pebble Beach came early Friday to see a legend in person. They expected to see at least flashes of the greatness that defines his career and was on display at the Masters.
What they got instead was a player fast approaching middle age and mindful of how many majors he might have left. Woods talked about it earlier in the week, saying he figured he’s got 10 years of competitive golf left, with 40 or so chances to add to his collection of 15 major titles and perhaps surpass the record of 18 owned by Jack Nicklaus.
“That’s a lot of majors,” Woods said.
But he also talked about having to conserve energy by not playing practice rounds before tournaments, something he wouldn’t have even thought of in his prime. And he’s always talking about the aches and pains that come with age that are compounded by swinging a golf club, and his former back troubles always lurk in the background.
Simply put, he’s got a lot more to worry about these days than he did in his prime.
Woods showed with his win at Augusta National that he can still play golf at a very high level. But he didn’t even make the weekend of the PGA Championship last month and his play at Pebble has been spotty at best. When he won here in 2000 he didn’t make a bogey or miss a putt under 10 feet, but those kind of performances simply can’t be repeated.
Fans root for Woods because he’s an icon of the game and because they remember seeing him at his dominating best. Parents tell their kids, who want to see it themselves.
It’s an unfair standard, of course, even if Woods himself still holds himself to it.
He is, after all, still Tiger Woods.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or on Twitter.
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