If Tiger Woods can't win a major at Pebble Beach or St. Andrews, where can he?
PEBBLE BEACH, CALIF.
Just when Tiger Woods finds his personal life, his golf game and his physical health at the most vulnerable juncture of his career, golf has chosen to give him the fattest, juiciest opportunity he could imagine -- a chance to play the U.S. and British Opens at the two venues where he has had his most spectacular success.
Exactly when he needs them, here come his old friends from the epochal days of the Tiger Slam -- Pebble Beach, backed up next month by St. Andrews-- where he won by 15 shots and eight shots in 2000. What a chance to reclaim his place in the game, repair his imagine, boost his confidence and resume his quest for Jack Nicklaus's all-time record of 18 major championship wins.
Or, with his neck still aching, the polish on his game months behind schedule and his erratic swing the subject of golf-magazine mockery, has the sport simply given Woods a chance to show that, for now at least, he really isn't a Tiger anymore?
If he can't win at Pebble, where he shot a nerve-wracking, no-birdie, 3-over-par 74 in Thursday's first round, or at The Old Course in Scotland, then the door is open for all others to challenge him.
"I three-putted twice and laid up in a bunker [at the 18th hole]. Those are mistakes you just can't afford to make," said Woods, who was proud that he "was very consistent and very patient."
But his whole afternoon was a kind of back-teeth-grinding, don't-show-'em-your-bleeding sort of patience as he sinned by leaving a 10-foot birdie putt short at the 17th hole, then missed a similar par putt at No. 18 to the low (amateur) side.
"Keep plugging along and see where we are Sunday afternoon," Woods said. That's quite a difference from the man who won this same event here by 15 shots a decade ago.
But that's the point. Usually, "plugging along" is an adequate strategy in majors. But it's not what you expect from Woods at either of the classic courses where he has owned everything but the fishing rights. If he goes O-fer the '10 majors, with a zilch at his other favorite track --Augusta National-- already in the books this year, then don't we have to reevaluate everything?
Jack's record? If Woods can't win here or at St. Andrews next month, who says he'll ever pass Nicklaus at all? This month, even the Olden Bear himself, professing faith that Woods will prevail and win at one of these two sites, has stressed their importance in the trajectory of Woods's career.
"Pebble Beach and St. Andrews were important golf courses for him," Nicklaus said of Woods's pursuit of his record. "He basically won on those fairly easily through the years. If he has problems with those golf courses, sure, they won't come around for a while. Maybe it might be tougher."