Swept away by Tiger's tsunami

Rivals are an irrelevance to the human chain which tagged along behind Woods in the US Open

San Francisco

Is Tiger Woods back? The question is no longer being asked, at least not in San Francisco.

Woods was in full pied piper mode at The Olympic Club on Friday, heading a human chain through the closing holes. As he led the magic three-ball, which included Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson, down the 16th fairway, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, a winner on the European Tour this year, was coming towards him down the adjacent 10th. The Spaniard was walking into a human tsunami, wave upon wave of Woods devotees locked in a rolling maul, jostling for position by the ropes.

The Cabrera-Bello group, a combined 37 over par, were reduced to the status of dog walkers, a comparative irrelevance. Their chance meeting offered a snapshot into the Woods experience.

A US Open with Woods at the top of the leaderboard defaults to a two-tier event: Woods and the rest. There was, of course, some pent-up demand in the gallery. It is four years since he won his last major, three since he contended for victory. This is what they had been waiting for, a chance to share in the phenomenon that is Woods, undeniably the most charismatic figure in the game.

Whether he will ever be the player he was is in a sense irrelevant. He need only approximate to that to fire the juices of a golfing public already wedded to the legend. The colourful pageant around the packed 16th green was the golfing equivalent of a state procession, the crowds shoehorned in waiting for the king's outline to form in the distance. The sweet arc of his ball tracing around the dogleg forewarned us of his imminent arrival. And then there he was, the man in black striding purposefully towards what he expects to be a 15th major conquest.

Woods went out yesterday in the last group with his old friend Jim Furyk. Playing partner and career rival Mickelson edged into the weekend with a birdie at the last on Friday. Watson didn't make it. World No 1 Luke Donald had already packed his bags. And Woods's heir-apparent, world No 2 and defending US Open champion Rory McIlroy, was gone, too, all of them seen off by a course that demanded control and respect.

Experience has been Woods's best friend this week. He is hitting the ball cleanly, keeping mistakes to a minimum and playing without risk. He is also informed by the recent past. He knows what it is like to fight his game, to leave a major early, as he did the US PGA in Atlanta last year, an event won by a twenty-something Keegan Bradley, playing at full tilt. That was never going to be the requirement here.

"I know that it [The Olympic Club] takes a bit out of us, but so be it," Woods said. "I would much rather be there than missing cuts or just making the cut. So it's a wonderful place to be with a chance to win your nation's Open."

Woods set out in a three-way share of the lead, two clear of the field on one under par with Furyk and that other great golfing nurdler David Toms. The likes of Graeme McDowell, the 2010 US Open champion, Charl Schwartzel, last year's Masters champ, three-time major winner Padraig Harrington and world No 3 Lee Westwood lurked, all within six of his lead. There was also the threat of the teenager.

The Woods legend was created in infancy. The label attached was prodigy. The cycle continued with the appearance here of two more improbably gifted nippers.

The story of Andy Zhang, the 14-year-old, Beijing-born, Florida-honed fledgling lit up the start of the week. The squealing urgency of the call to tell him he was in the tournament, the awed practice round with Bubba, the triple-bogey start, were all part of the tapestry. He departed on Friday on 16 over par, two better than the Spanish Ryder Cup elder Miguel Angel Jimenez and 12 shots inside Brian Rowell.

By then the story has shifted three years forward to a fully developed teenage colossus called Beau. Young Hossler is 17 and has yet to drink his first coffee, something to address when he goes up to Texas State in the autumn. No self-respecting freshman would be seen walking across the quad without a Starbucks.

Hossler went from defeat by Austin Smotherman – watch out for that name – in the state final to the top of the US Open leaderboard in a matter of weeks. Had the kid from Rancho Santa Margarita High been told after losing out to Smotherman that he would be leading the 112th US Open, what might he have said? "I would probably tell them they were nuts."

We shouldn't be surprised. He has only been playing the game for nine years and this is not even his first major. Hossler missed the cut at Congressional a year ago.

He came unstitched a little here after reaching the exalted mark of two under par, closing the second round on plus three, still good enough to go out yesterday in the seventh-last group with Frenchman Raphael Jacquelin.

"I was pretty excited [topping the leaderboard], but then again I had another 40 holes at least. You got a long way to go and you can't get too wrapped up on where you're at."

Blimey, such composure. Someone age-test that boy.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
musicBand's first new record for 20 years has some tough acts to follow
News
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
tech
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments