Return to Pebble Beach: How a decade has changed Tiger
Next week Woods plays the US Open course where 10 years ago he humbled a major field with fantasy golf. James Corrigan reports on his chances of a repeat performance
Saturday 12 June 2010
Those "then and now" adverts are designed to be shocking, but even the editor of Slimming Monthly would choke on his Ryvita to see the difference between Tiger Woods in 2000 and Tiger Woods in 2010. When the world No 1 returns next week to Pebble Beach – the scene of his and, yes, his sport's greatest triumph – it will be impossible not to make the contrast.
Then Woods was the flawless icon, a young man with no self-doubt who found it merely routine to break a 138-year record and trounce a US Open field by 15 strokes. Now Woods is the fallen idol, a ridiculed adulterer seemingly ravaged by self-doubt, who found it acceptable merely to get in four rounds in his warm-up tournament and finish tied 19th. If ever it would be acceptable to ask a billionaire "Where did it all go wrong?" surely this will be it.
Of course, the world, the wife and his mistresses all know where the wheels came off Woods' unstoppable drive to incontrovertible greatness. The night of 27 November continues to overshadow Woods' each and every move. His reputation is wrecked, his aura crushed and some say his sore neck adds an injury to all the insult which has come since that revelation-bursting car crash outside his home. The only question remaining to many is how far Woods still has to plummet.
Perhaps Pebble Beach will show if this dead Tiger can bounce. If any place on earth can inspire Woods to rediscover his mojo it must be the spectacular layout perched on the Monterey Peninsula. This was the scene for what Sports Illustrated termed "the greatest performance in golfing history", when a 24-year-old strode through the ocean fog to restate what was and wasn't possible in the game's toughest major.
He broke so many records that week it is difficult to know which to highlight first. The dismantling of the 13-shot mark set by Old Tom Morris in 1862? The fact he was the only player to break par and not only that, but 12-under to his nearest "pursuers" on three-over? Take your pick. Before picking the new Woods apart, that is.
When he slumped so uncharacteristically to a missed cut at Quail Hollow six weeks ago, Johnny Miller, the former US Open winner turned TV summariser, urged him to dump his coach and watch the videotapes of his Pebble glory over and over. As it turned out, the coach dumped Tiger. But he has had the chance to rewind the tapes in his own mind. "You know, my practice rounds were good, but I've had practice rounds like that before," recalled Woods last week. "I just got off to a good start the first day, a 65 or something. And that's the thing with the US Open. You just have to get off to a good start. It's so hard to make up ground. I was able to do that. It just went off from there."
Woods went on to explain how a late-night stint on the practice green with Butch Harmon, his coach at the time, was to unlock the secret to Pebble's infamous putting surfaces. "I didn't miss from inside eight feet the whole week," he said. "You don't have weeks like that. On bent [grass] you do, but not on poa annua."
"The best you've ever played?" he was asked. "The '97 Masters was actually pretty good, I think," he replied. "The 2000 British Open wasn't bad either."
He neglected to reminisce about the emotion. But then, there wasn't much. Well, there was his reaction on the 18th tee on Saturday morning when he sent a drive soaring into the Pacific and followed it up with a curse which soared live across America at a time when cartoons were airing. "You goddam fucking prick!" he bellowed. But other than that it was just the cold unrelenting stare of Woods and his rivals' humble look of inescapable doom. "We're not playing in the same ball-park right now," said the joint runner-up, Ernie Els. "Even if I played out of my mind I would have lost by six or seven." The South African led the chorus of the disconsolate as he envisaged a future of majors in which only second-best would be the general ambition.
It didn't work out like that. In a game with so many variables it never does. Woods did win the next major – the Open at St Andrews – by eight shots and was later to complete his Tiger Slam. But as far as spread-eagling the field, the nearest he has come since 2000 was the five shots at the 2005 Open and the 2006 USPGA. The reality is that the pack had made huge inroads before his secret life ever caught up with him. It makes that major of a decade ago seem so much more mythical. Even now the other pros come over all bullied- little schoolboy if asked to reflect.
"Er, I was in second with 10 holes to go," was Padraig Harrington's classic response a few weeks ago when quizzed by an American reporter on what he was doing during the 2000 US Open. That sums up the non-existence of the so-called supporting cast. Even those to whom the tournament would otherwise have represented a success dare only to talk of it in terms of subservience.
"The only way to look at it is that there were two tournaments that week," Miguel Angel Jimenez, the other joint runner-up, told The Independent last week. "It's funny, as this was my only second in a major. But as for coming close to actually winning a major, it doesn't feature in my top five." With his propensity for Havanas, it is far to say this was hardly a case of "close, but no cigar".
In fact, the only person pulling out the Cubans that week was the winner. When he stepped off the 18th green, Woods produced three cigars from his pocket and handed them to his girlfriend. Joanna Jagoda was by his side all tournament, yet interestingly his father, Earl, stayed away. Woods Snr announced it was "all part of the plan" but the word was he did not warm to the attractive and intelligent blonde on his son's arm.
Tiger was soon to split with Jagoda, his father's disapproval always rumoured as the reason. If some believe the seeds were being set for a dysfunctional attitude to relationships then something else of note happened to Woods that week. He played the first two rounds with the maverick Swede Jesper Parnevik and a bond was cemented. Two years later Parnevik would introduce Woods to his au pair, Elin Nordegren.
Yes, hindsight has a knack of neatly completing the circle. Then, there existed no doubts, no concerns. In his magnificence, Woods would be forgiven his swearing, even his decision to practise when most other pros were at a memorial service for Payne Stewart. Now he will be excused nothing: the slightest flash of temper, the merest show of disrespect.
Life has changed so much for the phenomenon to whom "the rules did not apply". Woods turns up out of form, out of favour and at 7-1 out of consideration by most bookies. He kids himself when he says a show of dominance could return. But then, he's lost a halo by kidding people.
"It could happen," he said. "But only at certain venues or in certain tournaments. Where everyone is shooting four- or five-under, it's not going to happen. You can't separate yourself. You have to get on a venue where par is a good score and you happen to get super-hot that week. It just happened to be that week for me." If only it were that simple.
US Open 2000: How tiger's playing partners saw it
First round: Jesper Parnevik
"I know it's a daft thing to say on a Thursday, but the only thing that can stop Tiger from winning is Tiger."
Woods shoots a 65 to stand at six-under and lead by one
Second round: Jim Furyk
"When he had an eight-footer, he knocked it in dead centre as if it was a two-footer."
Woods shoots a 69 to stand at eight-under and lead by six
Third round: Thomas Bjorn
"He's playing every shot like his life depends on it."
Woods shoots a 71 to stand at eight-under and lead by 10
Fourth round: Ernie Els
"It's got to be a dream. If I could play like that, like he just did the last four days in a major championship, that would be my ultimate golfing week. He just played a perfect US Open. He did nothing wrong. We've been talking about him for three years, I guess we'll be talking about him for the next 20. When he's on, we don't have a chance."
Woods shoots a 67 to finish at 12-under and win by 15
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