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Sunday, June 15, 2008

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Tiger A Lock? Stranger Things Have Happened

Tiger Walks
Tiger Woods has never lost a major when he's led after 54 holes. (Steven Gibbons/USGA)

By Alex Davidson

San Diego – With a perfect record in major championships while holding at least a share of the 54-hole lead, Tiger Woods appears to be unbeatable Sunday in the 108th U.S. Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course.

With six victories in the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines’ South Course, including the last four in a row, Woods certainly appears unbeatable.

With five major victories among his 17 nearest pursuers, Woods almost assuredly is figuring on a second Open victory in his native state and his third national title overall.

That he somehow scratched out a 1-under-par 70 on another murky day along the Pacific coast and sits at 3-under 210, one clear of the field, despite a bum knee, two months of rust, has to be encouraging to a man who has come back from long layoffs before and triumphed.

That Woods hasn’t played particularly well tee to green and yet is a stroke ahead of England’s Lee Westwood, who has been stellar in his ball striking and has suffered just five bogeys and nothing worse over 54 holes, has to bring comfort to a golfer who is comfortably ahead of the planet in the Official World Golf Ranking.

That the golf course is likely to be set up the same way, with the same green speeds, sightlines, skyline and familiar memories, probably has to give Woods immense confidence.

Protocol, competitive mandate, television contracts and tradition demand that they play 18 more holes of golf Sunday in this championship that is a foregone conclusion, so Woods and Westwood will march out last at 1:30 p.m. PDT, the final two of 80 competitors, to formally complete this exercise.

This is more of a lock than Secretariat, yes?

This is more of a lock than tax withholding, yes?

This is more of a lock than a lurid Britney photo showing up in a tabloid, yes?

The answer: We have three sentences for your consideration first.

Big Brown will win the Triple Crown.

The New England Patriots will win the Super Bowl.

Tiger Woods will win this year’s Grand Slam.

Weren’t they foregone conclusions? Locks? Guarantees?

Oops.

No, they will play this thing out because, well, you just never know if the knee will give out, or his luck will give out or his putter will go cold. You never know if fate has something else in mind.

Maybe it’s time for a European to again win the U.S. Open, which hasn’t happened since Tony Jacklin in 1970. Think of that Lee Westwood, Robert Karlsson, Miguel Angel Jimenez or even, you, Sergio Garcia.

Maybe 40-something underachievers with health problems are supposed to win. Keep plugging Davis Love and Rocco Mediate.

Maybe a third U.S. Open isn’t reserved for Woods but for Ernie Els.

Maybe Geoff Ogilvy wants to show that his 2006 U.S. Open victory was no fluke.

Maybe another U.S. player is supposed to end the four-year American drought, an upstart like Hunter Mahan or D.J. Trahan or even John Merrick.

There is only one likely outcome, but many possibilities.

Woods said it himself Saturday when asked about the phenomenal shots that keep finding their way into the bottom of the holes, and the celebrations that ensued, the fist pumps and smiles and head shakes. “I can’t tell you what’s coming,” he said, almost prophetically, one might be inclined to say.

This is the year of the lock. Or is it?

Alex Davidson is a freelance writer whose work has appeared previously on www.usopen.com.


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