You have to go back 14 years to find an instance where Tiger Woods was not the clear favorite to win a major championship.
Ever since he made a mockery of Augusta National in 1997, the golf world has been well aware of just what this man is capable of doing.
That being said, a lot has changed for Woods since 1997, with the most dramatic changes having come over the past seven months.
Woods’ game has clearly been affected by the physical and mental trauma he has endured, which is precisely why he entered this week’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach—the site of his record breaking 15-stroke victory back in 2000—as an underdog.
If Woods were to somehow find a way to capture his 15th major championship this week along the majestic shores of Pebble Beach he’d send shock waves throughout the entire world of golf...and it might just happen.
Sure, he opened with a three-over-par round of 74 yesterday afternoon.
Sure, he’s currently five strokes off the lead after 18-holes.
And sure, it’s been a LONG two years since he last won a major championship.
But none of that is relevant right now.
What’s relevant is that for the first time since last November, Woods is finding fairways with his tee shots (Woods hit 10 of 14 fairways yesterday).
What’s relevant is that Woods’ approach shots are tracking greens as if Nike had implanted a GPS system inside his golf ball (Woods hit his first 10 greens in regulation yesterday).
What’s relevant is that for the first time in along time, the look in Woods’ eyes is not one of shame and despair; it’s a look that says, “I mean business this week.”
And what’s relevant is that for the first time since returning to professional golf last April, Woods did not have to scratch and claw his way around the golf course; he actually played better than his first round score indicates.
The only reason why Woods is not sitting near the top of the leader board at the 110 U.S. Open Championship is because he needed 34 putts to navigate Pebble Beach’s unpredictable poa annua greens.
Had a few more putts found the bottom of the cup on Thursday, the rest of the field would have found themselves tossing and turning all night while highlight reels of the “old” Tiger flashed through their dreams.
The conditions at Pebble Beach are dry, which is causing the golf course to play short and fast.
Most players, including Woods, only needed to hit their drivers a handful of times on Thursday, and the course is only going to become faster as the weekend rolls on.
Hmm, sounds a bit like the conditions we saw at another major championship venue back in 2006—Royal Liverpool.
If the U.S. Open were being played at Bethpage this week, Woods would have about as good a chance at winning as he does at saving his marriage.
But considering how short and fast Pebble Beach is currently playing, what’s to stop Woods from turning this major championship into the 2006 British Open all over again…particularly if he starts sinking a few putts?
For more U.S. Open news, insight and analysis, check out The Tour Report .