Tiger will still loom large at Torrey Pines Tiger Woods

LOS ANGELES. Tiger Woods will not be at one of his favourite hunting grounds when the US Open returns to Torrey Pines this week. 

But given his association with the course, Woods will dominate the historical highlight reels during the coverage.

Picking the most memorable of Woods’ 15 major championship victories is no easy task. 

He has blitzed scoring records and world-class fields in a handful of those wins, he has found a way to get over the line when not at his best in others. 

And, of course, he defied the doubters when he landed No. 15 and his first in 11 years at the Masters in 2019.

But it was No. 14 that stood out for many reasons, chiefly that he played 91 holes practically on one good leg when the US Open was last played at Torrey Pines in 2008. 

After wincing his way around a punishing layout for four days, he made one of the best clutch putts of his career on the 72nd green to force an 18-hole playoff against unheralded veteran Rocco Mediate.

And those extra 18 holes were not enough to separate the pair, with Woods finally getting his hands on the trophy after one hole of sudden-death action. 

A day later, the champion revealed he had been playing with a double stress fracture in his lower left leg as well as a dodgy ACL in his knee, injuries which required immediate surgery and kept Woods on the sidelines for the remainder of the year.

The warning signs were waved long before the build-up began for the second major of what was promising to be another golden year for golf’s standout star. 

Woods began 2008 with four victories in four starts, making it eight wins in nine events stretching back to the previous year’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational a run punctured only by a “disappointing” tie for second at the Deutsche Bank Championship, won by arch-rival Phil Mickelson.

Woods was also runner-up behind Trevor Immelman at the 2008 Masters, albeit a distant three strokes behind the South African after a final round devoid of much competitive drama at Augusta National. And in the three months in between the Masters and US Open, Woods did not play at all after undergoing surgery on his left knee shortly after leaving Augusta.

There were rumours of a setback in his rehabilitation, and doubts over his participation at the US Open remained up until he pitched up in San Diego, where he had won for the sixth time at the Buick Invitational earlier in the year. 

He practised sparingly, and took his place on the first tee tomorrow with doubts lingering over his physical ability to get through the tournament.

And those doubts were enhanced after just a few holes, when he recoiled in pain after hitting a drive, clutching at his suspect left knee. It was not an isolated incident, but he managed to get round in 72 two over par and just five shots off the lead with the South Course yielding only 11 rounds under par, with a scoring average the wrong side of 75 and a half.

The next three days followed a similar pattern, although the numerous sightings of Woods doubled over were interspersed by several moments of sheer brilliance. 

The huge eagle putt, the chip-in for birdie from a dastardly stance which required the help of caddie Steve Williams to pull the stricken star onto a flat lie.

Rounds of 68 and 70 had given Woods a one-shot lead over perennial major nearly-man Lee Westwood after 54 holes, with Mediate the only other player under the card heading into the final round. After two holes on Sunday, Mediate had a two-shot lead when Woods double-bogeyed the first and dropped another shot at the second.

Woods’ proud record of converting 13 third-round leads into major victories looked under serious threat. Sky Sports.

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